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Trials

Scott, Dred. Historical And Legal Examination Of That Part Of The Decision Of The Supreme Court Of The United States In The Dred Scott Case. New York D. Appleton & Co. 1858.

In 1854, Dred Scott, his wife and two children were held as slaves in Missouri, the property of John Sanford. Scott brought suit in federal court for his freedom. The first question was whether or not plaintiff had the right to sue. Scott had been purchased as a slave upon arrival here, but his owner had emancipated him. Judge Taney stated the word citizen referred to in the Constitution does not include Negroes brought here as slaves from Africa; distinguishing between African Negroes and American Indians. Plaintiff may acquire all rights of citizenship within a particular state by the laws of that state, but that does not mean he is a citizen of the United States. The ruling of court was that Scott was not a "citizen" and therefore had no standing in court to sue for his freedom. Benton's critique, written when he was dying of cancer, "is the longest and most elaborate attack on Chief Justice Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case written before the Civil War." (Finkelman, Slavery in the Courtroom: An Annotated Bibliography. Minnesota State Law Library: Trial Collection Bibliography, part 7)

 

Harper’s Ferry Raid. Rise and progress of the bloody outbreak at Harper's Ferry ... [New York]: Published by direction of the New York Democratic Vigilant Association. John F. Trow, printer, ... [1859]

The Harper's Ferry Raid has been described as the act that lit the fuse on the start of the American Civil War. By the mid 1800’s, those who wanted to abolish slavery were divided into two camps: one believing in moral suasion, and one called "Free Soilers" wishing to end slavery by legal means. As the mid century approached and slavery seemed as strong as ever, a new type of abolitionist, born of frustration, emerged willing to use violent means to end slavery. John Brown was one of these. Brown spent three years collecting money from wealthy abolitionists in order to establish a colony for runaway slaves. To accomplish this, Brown needed weapons and decided to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown expected local slaves to rise up against their owners and join the raid. Not only did this fail to happen, but townspeople began shooting at the raiders. A jury found him guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Judge Richard Parker sentenced Brown to death and he was hanged. Before walking to the scaffold, he noted the inevitability of a national civil war: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." (West Virginia Archives,
John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid)

 

Kennedy, Lionel H. and Thomas Parker. An Official Report of The Trials of Sundry Negroes, Charged with an Attempt to Raise an Insurrection in the State of South Carolina …Charleston, N.C.: James R. Schenck, 1822.

Colonial and early national newspapers contain some actual accounts of slave insurrections, of small-scale slave uprisings, and many rumors about them. This report details plans for an unsuccessful 1822 slave rebellion led by Denmark Vesey, a free black man, around Charleston, South Carolina. Foiled in their efforts by slave informers, about thirty-five African- Americans were captured and hanged. However, the report states that "enough has been disclosed to satisfy every reasonable mind, that considerable numbers were involved." One informer noted that Vesey told a meeting of the rebel group they would seize the guard house and magazine to get arms. Then they would "rise up and fight against the whites for our liberties." (Library of Congress, The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship)

 

Burns, Anthony. Boston Slave Riot, Trial of Anthony Burns .... Boston: Fetridge and Company, 1854.

Before 1854, most Northerners managed to ignore the distant unpleasantness of slavery. But that year an escaped Virginia slave, Anthony Burns, was captured and brought to trial in Boston. The trial revolutionized the moral and political climate in Massachusetts and sent shock waves through the nation. After being in Massachusetts for some time he was served a warrant for his arrest and return to his former master. The master contested Burns still owed him time and service and he wanted it. Burns was subsequently placed under arrest and afforded the right for a trial. Burns objected and the case went to the United States Court. On Friday evening of the next night an assembly was held in Boston's Faneuil Hall. The goal of this assembly was to stand up against the wrong doings of these slave hunters and deliver justice to Burns. The South lay claim that the north had no right to take their property (a slave). The South insisted that Burns be returned at once without question. (Dictionary of American Biography)


Amistad Slavery Case

The African captives: Trial of the prisoners of the Amistad on the writ of habeas corpus, before the Circuit Court of the United States, for the District of Connecticut at Hartford: Judges Thompson and Judson. September term, 1839 New York: Published and for sale at 143 Nassau Street, 1839

I am resolved it is better to die than to be a white man’s slave… Joseph Cinque, leader of the revolt of African slaves aboard the Spanish ship, Amistad, 1839

Led by Sengbe Pieh, better known as Joseph Cinque, a group of African slaves aboard the Spanish ship Amistad had killed the captain and crew of the vessel and were attempting to sail back to Africa. They were sighted off the eastern tip of Long Island by Lt. Commander Thomas Gedney on board the brig Washington who seized the Amistad and towed it to New London, Connecticut where he notified U. S. Marshals. The Africans were consigned to county jail in New Haven.

Abolitionists, led by New Yorkers Simeon S. Jocelyn, a white pastor of a black church, Joshua Leavitt, editor of the Emancipator, the official organ of the anti-slavery society, and wealthy merchant Lewis Tappan, formed an Amistad Committee to raise money for their defense, find an interpreter and provide for their physical well being. Initially, the case was brought before the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Connecticut, at Hartford which denied habeas corpus due to lack of jurisdiction. The case of the Amistad prisoners ultimately reached the Supreme Court where they were defended by Roger S. Baldwin and former U. S. President John Quincy Adams. The Supreme Court decision did not attack slavery, but found that Cinques and his followers had been illegally kidnapped from Africa and, therefore were not liable for crimes committed against their captors. After having been in custody for two years, the Africans were released and, with the help of the Amistad Committee, returned to the Colony of Sierra Leone accompanied by five missionaries.

 

The Lemmon Slave Case. New York Court of Appeals Report of the The Lemmon Slave Case: Containing points and Arguments of Counsel on Both Sides and Opinions of all the Judges. New York: Horace Greeley, 1860.

The Lemmon case had national significance because it pitted the laws of a free state against those of a slave state. In 1852, the Lemmon family of Virginia traveled with their eight slaves to New York en route to catching a steamer to Texas. It was not their intention to remain in the state any longer than necessary. However, a free Negro named Louis Napoleon observed them and filed a writ of habeas corpus in New York City's Superior Court seeking to free the Lemmon's slaves. New York's "nine month transit law," during which time the status of slaves traveling through was unaffected, had been repealed in 1841. The lower court granted the writ and the Lemmons, reimbursed by insurance, returned to Virginia. Several years later, the State of Virginia challenged the actions of the State of New York and appealed to the state's highest court. The court decided 5-3 in favor of New York in a pro-freedom decision that sustained the slaves' release.

The Trial of Amos Broad and his wife . The Trial of Amos Broad and his wife, on three several indictments for assaulting and beating Betty a slave, and her little female child, Sarah, aged three years. Had at the Court of Special Sessions of the Peace, held in and for the city and county of New-York, at the City-hall, of the said city, on Tuesday, the 28 th day of February, 1809. Printed by Henry C. Southwick, No.2 Wall-Street, 1809.

Amos Broad and his wife Demis were indicted for cruel and unusually harsh beating of two of their slaves. Some of the testimony included eyewitness accounts of Mr. Broad pouring water on Betty and making her stand out in the cold until it froze on her. Another witness testified that Mrs. Broad "kicked the infant (Sarah) in the breasts until she gasped for breath." At summation, the defense attorney proposed that Amos and his wife should voluntarily free Betty, Sarah and a third slave, Hannah. Broad was found guilty on both counts of assault and was sentenced to a total of sixty days in prison and a $500 fine. His wife was also found guilty and fined $250, but because of her pregnancy was not jailed. The court did not address the legality of slavery since the institution was not completely outlawed in New York until 1827. However, the outcome of the case is notable because it led to unexpected freedom for the three slaves.



Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker. 1844. Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, at Pensacola Florida, for Aiding Slaves to Escape from Bondage. With an Appendix, Containing a Sketch of His Life. Boston: Published at the Anti-Slaver, 1845

Then lift that manly right-hand, bold Ploughman of the wave!
Its branded palm shall prophesy, "Salvation To the Slave!"
The Branded Hand by John Greenleaf Whittier

Jonathan Walker was a Florida resident who moved to Massachusetts to separate himself from the institution of slavery. He returned to Florida three years later and attempted to help seven slaves, formerly in his employ, to escape. He was captured and tried in the Superior Court of Escambia County, in the District of West Florida, Territory of Florida. On being convicted, he was pilloried, pelted with rotten eggs, imprisoned for eleven months, fined, and branded on the hand branded by a U. S. Marshal with the letters "S.S." which stood for "slave stealer." This episode was the inspiration for John Greenleaf Whittier's abolitionist poem, The Branded Hand.


Nutt, Lizzie

Lizzie Nutt's sad experience : A heart broken, and a family plunged in grief. Wreck and ruin! The shooting and tragic death of noble-hearted Captain Nutt, Lizzie's brave father, who flinched not, like a true soldier, to die in defence of his daughter's honor. The great Dukes trial at Uniontown, Pa. Full account, and all "those terrible letters." Philadelphia : Barclay & Co., 1883.

Nutt, James. The Very Pathetic and Truly remarkable Trial of Young James Nutt, the avenger of his father’s death... Philadelphia: Barclay & Co. [1884]
Nicholas L. Dukes, an attorney, was engaged to marry Lizzie Nutt. Dukes wrote anonymous letters to Lizzie’s father, Captain A.C. Nutt, saying that his daughter, Lizzie, was intimate with several young men. He also placed letters near the Nutt residence about her supposed scandalous conduct. Captain Nutt demanded that Dukes marry his daughter immediately. A few days later Dukes and Nutt met at the Jennings Hotel. A scuffle broke out and Dukes shot Lizzie’s father, allegedly in self -defense. Dukes surrendered immediately fearing that he would be lynched by the townspeople. Duke’s defense was that he killed Nutt fearing that he would be shot. Everyone thought that Dukes would certainly be convicted, but the jury, which included many of Nutt’s friends, acquitted Duke. The judge could not conceal his amazement, admonishing the jury as he dismissed the prisoner. Duke was subsequently disbarred and after winning a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, resigned, rather than being expelled after the slanderous assault on Lizzie Nutt’s character was found to be false. James Nutt, Lizzie’s brother, was so enraged he stalked, shot and killed Dukes. James was acquitted by reason of insanity. (McDade, The Annals of Murder, A Bibliography 718, New York Times.)

 

Pomeroy, Jesse Harding. The life of Jesse Harding Pomeroy the most remarkable case in the history of crime or criminal law / by E. Luscomb Haskell. Boston : [s.n.], 1892.

In 1871 and 1872, then age 12, Pomeroy beat and tortured small children and left them for dead in the alleyways of South Boston. Caught, he was sent to reform school but was later released into his mother’s care. In March, 1874, Pomeroy killed a ten year old girl named Katie Curren and one month later he took Horace Mullin to a marshland outside of the city and slashed him viciously with a knife until he died. When he was picked up by police he was carrying a bloodstained knife, had mud from the marsh where Horace Mullin was found on his trousers and was wearing shoes that had the same sole print as ones taken from the crime scene. The body of Katie Curren was soon found in the basement of Jesse’s mother’s apartment. Newspaper editorials declared that a post Civil war America was in the midst of a “crime epidemic” and blamed violent entertainment, especially the dime novels, “Wild Bill Hickock” and “Indian Dan.” Pomeroy was sentenced to be hanged, but because of his youth the sentence was commuted to solitary imprisonment for life. Pomeroy died 58 years later, at the age of 73, on a prison farm after spending most of his adult life with only a small ceiling window for light. (Purohit, Jesse Harding Pomeroy: The Teenaged Killer, Schechter, Fiend: The Shocking Truth of Americas Youngest Serial Killer, New York Times)

 

Wirz, Henry The Demon of Andersonville; or the Trial of Wirz. Philadelphia: Barclay & Co.,1865.

Wirz, a native of Switzerland, was tried and executed in the fall of 1865 for war crimes committed against the Union POW's in the Andersonville prison camp. The courts claimed that Wirz was involved in a conspiracy with Jefferson Davis to torture and murder the Union inmates. The pro Confederate author claims that the accusations were untrue and that the trial was a mockery of justice. Henry Wirz rejected an offer of a pardon the night before his execution. The offer was conditioned on his agreement to testify that former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was responsible for the deaths at Andersonville. Wirz advised that such a statement would be untrue and he would not base his freedom on a lie. With the execution of Henry Wirz the desire for vengeance felt in the North apparently died. No additional "conspirators" were tried or even indicted. Henry Wirz became the only person ever to be executed in the United States for war crimes. Henry Wirz's trial set the precedent for future war crimes trials and was cited in the war crimes trials following both World War I and World War II. "I was simply following orders" was no longer acceptable as a defense when "crimes against humanity" were committed by soldiers. The Wirz trial clearly provided that there are limitations to the extent military orders, which violate the rules of war or common law of humanity, may be followed. It established that military personnel may be held personally accountable for following such orders.(Bill Carnes and Troy Drew, The Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, Commandant Andersonville Prison)

 

Murel, John A.

A history of the detection, conviction, life and designs of John A. Murel, the great western land pirate : together with his system of villany, and plan of exciting a Negro rebellion ; Also, a catalogue of the names of four hundred and fifty-five of his mystic clan, fellows and followers, and their efforts for the destruction of Mr. Virgil A. Stewart, the young man who detected him, to which is added a biographical sketch of V.A. Stewart , by Augustus Q. Walton. Cincinnati: circa 1850.

One of the most famous of American outlaw narratives. Murrell (correct spelling) appeared in court several times in 1825-6 for gaming and horse stealing. He soon developed a network of thieves who committed highway robberies from New Orleans to Tennessee. Murrell's "clan" operated throughout the old Southwest and their specialty became slave stealing. A slave would be enticed from captivity by offers of freedom and once secured, he would be sold and stolen repeatedly until the slave became so well known through wanted posters that he could no longer be sold; he would then be murdered. Murrell was turned in by Virgil Stewart, a member of the gang, and tried in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1835. The most sensational aspect of Stewart's testimony was that Murrell and his cohorts had planned a great slave rebellion in the Southwest. In fact, there were several outbreaks in the summer of 1835 and some of the instigators confessed to belonging to the Murrell gang. More than 20 were hung before quiet was restored. This work was taken from the papers of Virgil Stewart. (Howes, U.S. IANA (1650-1950). A Selective Bibliography in Which Are Described 11,620 W76. Sabin, A Dictionary of Books Relating to America 101209. Chapel Hill Books. William Reese Company) .