Collection: Trinity College Historical Society

Court System of North Carolina Before the Revolution

In studying the development of a people nothing is more helpful than a correct understanding of their system of judicature, for here we not only learn their methods of administering justice, but, at the same time, we get an insight into their conception of justice itself. There is no question of government more vital to the individual than the mode in which the authority of that government is to be administered. There is hardly another function of government that touches the citizen at a point quite so delicate as the institution, which passes judgment upon his deeds and intentions. Hence we find that all peoples at all times have demanded a satisfactory and, to their minds, a fair system of meting out justice to both offender and offended. “Equality before the law” is not alone a plea for an equal voice in selecting the rulers and legislators who are to make the laws, but it is also a plea for an indiscriminating law, applying indiscriminately to rich and poor, bond and free, to be administered by an impartial hand, not without a certain “fear and trembling,” yet with a boldness and fidelity becoming a man robed with authority. I say the people not only demand that the laws be impartial, but that the courts in which those laws are to be interpreted and applied be such as will insure...

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North Carolina Courts in the Royal Period

Such in general were the courts in North Carolina at the end of the proprietary government, and such they continued for several years thereafter. The change of the Colonial government from proprietary to royal had very little effect upon the courts. Only such changes were made from time to time as circumstances demanded. It now remains for us to note a few of the more important of these changes that were made prior to the beginning of the Revolution. The first one of importance occurred in 1738. An act was passed “by his Excellency Gabriel Johnston, Esq., Governor, by and with the consent of his Majesty’s Council, and the General Assembly of this province,” abolishing the Provost-Marshals of the Province and appointing instead a Sheriff in each County. Three Justices of the Peace in each county must be recommended biennially to the Governor by the court of the county, who must be “most fit and able to execute the office of Sheriff for their respective counties.” The Governor appointed the one that to him seemed “meet for the office,” and he served the next two ensuing years.” The same act changed the name Precinct to County, and the old Precinct Court became the County Court, but its organization and functions remained the same in essence as they had been. The next change of interest came in 1746 when there...

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Biography of Thomas L. Clingman

The sketch of General Clingman which his niece, Mrs. Kerr, contributed to The Archive for March, 1899, deals with the personal side of her distinguished uncle. It has, therefore, seemed to me that a further sketch which should deal with his political career would not be without value to North Carolinians. There have been many sons of our State who are ranked by their admirers as the equals of General Clingman in political ability; but there are few who can be thought to have equaled him in party prominence. His tireless activity kept him thoroughly up in any line of business in which Congress might be interested. In the exciting debates that preceded the Civil War he made it a custom not to retire before two o’clock. He soon was able to learn who were the men who were up latest and by talking to the others early in the evening and to these later on he was able to exchange views with a large number of men, so that when he went into the House in the morning his information as to the latest changes in public opinion was remarkably accurate. His impetuosity, fearlessness, and honesty made him an effective debater. He was ambitious. He determined early in life that he would be President, and but for the sectional issues that stood in his way, it is possible...

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Chancery, Admiralty And Slavery Courts in NC

The three courts above mentioned constituted the chief agencies for the administration of justice, but there were three other courts of secondary importance. These courts, it would seem, were instituted not so much because of any actual need of them, as because similar courts existed in the mother country, but because of the additional fact that they furnished more offices to be filled by the friends and kinsfolk of the Lords Proprietors. The first of these to be mentioned is the Court of Chancery. This was, as in England, a Court of equity. Its duties do not seem to be either numerous or difficult. “The Governor and the members of his Majesty’s Council are the judges of this court,” and the presence of the Governor and at least five members of the Council are essential to its sittings. “The Governor may hold court when and where he pleases although it is seldom held oftener than twice a year.” When the General Court was created, the chancery jurisdiction still remained in the hands of the Governor and Council. But other functions were added to these. Wills were proved before it, executor’s accounts were received by it, and lands were divided by it, and occasionally we find it hearing charges against citizens or against officers for misconduct in office. The second is the Admiralty Court, which consisted of a Judge, a...

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Biography of William H. Branson

Very few American families can trace their ancestry beyond three or four generations. This is due to the lack of a historical spirit among the early settlers of a country. They make no records, and only vague traditions carry their histories down to other generations. When the Branson family came to America cannot be accurately determined. It is, however, certain that early in the eighteenth century Thomas Branson came from England and settled in Chatham County, N. C. This makes the Branson family one of the old families of North Carolina, and identifies them with all the periods of the State’s growth. William Henry Branson belonged to the fifth generation from Thomas Branson. William’s father was named Thomas, doubtless for the original Branson, and was born in Randolph County, near Asheboro, in the year 1800. For four generations the Branson family remained in this section of the State, a fact which indicates an indisposition to rove from point to point in search of easier fortunes. Thomas Branson, the father of William H. Branson, was twice married; the first time to Miss Mary Lewellyn, the second time to Mrs. Prescott, who was a Miss Buck. William was the only child by this second wife. He was born near Cedar Falls, Randolph County, May 23, 1860. His father was a blacksmith, a vocation of large importance in the first half of...

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Biograhy of Dennis Heartt

If history consists of the lives of great men, whose names are “wrought into the verbs of language, their works and effigies in our houses,” North Carolina should contribute many pages to the epitome of civilization; for her institutions, public and private, have been established by men of superior abilities, who have spared neither time nor resources in the founding of a great State. In journalism, as in economic and political growth, the pioneer work has been done by men of strong personal character, who possessed the art of citizenship as well as the talents requisite for their chosen work. These editors, though the remains of their labor often seem eccentric when compared with our modern journals, had great influence among the people, and their memories are forever perpetuated in the ideals of the State they served so well. Among these pioneers of our press none were purer in public and private life, more energetic, or held greater favor throughout the State than Dennis Heartt, the founder, and for nearly fifty years the editor, of the Hillsborough Recorder. Like many of our best citizens, Mr. Heartt was not a native Carolinian. His father was an English sea captain, who settled in New England. Here, in the village of North Bradford, Connecticut, November 6, 1783, Dennis Heartt was born. Very little is known of the young man’s early life. In...

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Landholding in Colonial North Carolina

1Reprinted by permission from the Law Quarterly Review (London) April, 1895. In 1663 His Majesty Charles II, out of the abundance of his American lands, granted the province of Carolina to eight of the chief nobles of his court. These gentlemen retained the property until 1629, when they sold it to the King. Here it remained until the War of the Revolution. Although these two supremacy’s, the one of the Lords Proprietors and the other of the King, represent the two distinct periods in the history of the colony, they indicate but little interruption in the history of its private law. This is especially true of the law relating to land. The basis for the future government was the charter by which the Lords Proprietors received their property. When the purchase by the King was made, there was no beginning the government de novo. The Crown simply stepped into the place vacated by the former owners. Proprietary laws were for the most part confirmed or but slightly altered. We thus see the importance of the charter of 1663, and can understand why the people in their periodic revisions of the laws saw fit to insert this instrument as a preface to their codes. It is therefore from this charter 2The first charter was issued in 1663. In order to include a strip of territory to the north of the...

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Biography of William J. Yates

William J. Yates was born in Fayetteville, N. C., August 8, 1827. His father was an invalid, and was what was known in. those days as a ‘wheel-wright.” His mother was a member of the M. E. Church for seventy-two years, and she neglected none of the training that her son ought to have. The grandparents of Mr. Yates were English and Welsh, having come direct from Great Britain to this country. From boyhood he was thrown upon his own resources, and gladly assisted in the support of his mother and the younger children. Early in life he showed great devotion and tenderness to his mother, and this feeling was kept up through life, for after he left his old home he made his annual pilgrimage to Fayetteville to see her. He would make any sacrifice for her happiness, and a portion of his first earnings were spent in purchasing a house and lot for her. Mr. Yates’ first permanent employment was in the printing office of the North Carolinian, a paper published in his own town, where he served as an apprentice for about seven years. At the end of this time he became a “journeyman printer” in the same office, receiving a few dollars per week for his labor. This enabled him to lay by a little money to be invested in something at a suitable time....

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The Legal Regulations of Public Morals in Colonial North Carolina

The first provision made for a church in North Carolina was in the charter granted to Sir Robert Heath in 1629. Other church provisions were re-enacted in charters to the Lords Proprietors in 1663, and in 1665. Of course these provisions were for a state church, all the efforts on the part of the authorities in England being in this direction, that is to say, to incorporate church and state. The first effort to put these provisions into practice was the vestry act of 1701. Another act, that of 1704, precipitated the Cary Rebellion. From 1730 till 1773 the “Schism Act” was enforced. The British Toleration Act, or Act of Indulgence, of 1689, defined the position of dissenters from the Established Church. Dissenters were allowed places of worship protected from disturbance, if they took the oath of allegiance and subscribed to the declaration against transubstantiation. But such congregations had to be registered, and the doors of their meeting houses left unlocked and unbarred. All ministers had to endorse the Anglican creed, except that Baptists were relieved from subscribing to the doctrine of infant baptism, and Quakers must adhere to the government, abjure transubstantiation, profess faith in the Trinity and in the inspiration of the Bible. Dissenters were excluded from the English universities, and the Anglican ceremony alone was good enough to tie the matrimonial knot. The Corporation and Test...

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Running the Blockade from Confederate Ports

One of the most thrilling phases of the history of the Civil War is that which deals with running the blockade from, and into, the Southern ports. The absolute dependence of the South on European markets, both to sell her cotton and to obtain military supplies, induced the Confederate government early in its existence to foster blockade running as much as possible. The convenience of neutral harbors in the West Indies, the Bahamas, and the Bermudas was especially fortunate for such plans, and the year 1861 was not half gone before a number of fast sailing, low built, duskily painted ships were plying with much regularity between these islands and Wilmington, N. C., Charleston, Savannah and other Southern harbors. The destination of a blockade runner was usually Nassau. This place, until it became the metropolis of the blockade trade, was of very little commercial importance. Its inhabitants had supported themselves by a thriftless kind of agriculture and by a sharp-some times too sharp -practice of wrecking. They were idle, good natured, and unambitious. Had it depended on them to manage the blockade trade, the Southern Confederacy might have perished of starvation. English merchants, as well as the Southerners themselves, saw the favorableness of the situation. Ere long the streets and quays of Nassau filled with sharp-eyed men, whose whole bearing betokened the speculator. Agents for London firms opened offices...

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The Case of the State Vs. Will

One of the most remarkable cases ever tried in the North Carolina courts was the case of The State vs. Will. It was the most important case on the subject of slavery and fixed a slave’s right to defend himself against the cruel and unjust punishment of a master. It was decided at the December term, 1834, of the Supreme Court (State vs. Will, 1 Devereux and Battle, 121-172). The facts of the case are as follows: Will was the slave of Mr. James S. Battle, of Edgecombe County, and was placed under the direction of an overseer named Richard Baxter, a man whose temper differed materially from that of his pious namesake. On January 22, 1834, Will and another slave had a dispute over a hoe which Will claimed the right of using exclusively, since he had helved it in his own time. The foreman, who was also a slave, directed another Negro to use the hoe, whereupon Will, after some angry words, broke the helve of the hoe and went off to work at a cotton screw about one-fourth of a mile away. The foreman reported the matter to Baxter, who at once went to his own house. While there his wife was heard to say: “I would not, my dear,” to which he replied very positively: “I will.” He then took his gun, mounted his horse,...

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Biography of Bartholomew Figures Moore

Bartholomew Figures Moore was born near Fishing Creek, Halifax County, N. C., January 29, 1801. The first seventeen years of his life were spent on his father’s farm. In 1818 he entered the State University and was graduated from that institution in 1820. From 1820-23 he prepared himself for the practice of law, which he began at Nashville, N. C., remaining there until 1835, when he removed to Halifax County, his old home. In December 1828, he was married to Louisa Boddie, daughter of Geo. Boddie, Esq., of Nash County, who died November 4th, 1829. On April 19, 1835, he married Lucy W. Boddie, another daughter of George Boddie, Esq. He served in the House of Commons from 1836-’44, with the exception of ’38. In 1848, he was appointed by Governor Graham as Attorney General of the State, and the next Legislature elected him to that position. In 1857 he resigned the position of Attorney General in consequence of an appointment on a commission to revise the statute law of the State. In 1848 he moved to Raleigh, where he remained until his death on November 27, 1878. In all the long career of Mr. Moore, as a lawyer, a statesman, or as a private citizen, there is probably nothing which brings out the true character of the man so well as the course he chose to pursue during...

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Biography of Jacob Thompson

North Carolina has contributed much to the history of other States. Many of our promising youths have gone to add their lives and talents to increasing the honor rolls of other sections of the Union. Upon all such she looks with pride and pleasure. But she is not willing that all the honor coming from such lives be claimed by the States of their adoption. It is a circumstance of no small consideration for one to have been a true, native North Carolinian. There is a solidity and strength of character in the general tenor of our good old State that will make itself felt wherever you find it. The mother takes some credit to herself for the achievements of her sons. One life we should not fail to lay great claims to is that of Jacob Thompson, a native North Carolinian, who gave his life work to the State of Mississippi. He served twelve years as Congressman from that State during one of the most trying periods of the Nation’s history, and filled the office of Secretary of Interior in the cabinet of James Buchanan. He was one of the strongest men of his time and exerted a powerful influence in the Nation’s capital in the days when Webster, Clay, and Calhoun were crossing swords in the Senatorial arena. His life is worth considering. He was born in...

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Assassination of John Walter Stephens

The year 1870 is one of the years that will go down in history as one of great social and political significance, and it well marks the culmination and the decline of the Ku Klux organization. Never before, nor perhaps since, was there a time when prejudice and feeling, intermingled with crime, ran so rampant along social and political lines. It was a time when the Negro, or the white man who took any part with the Negro in politics, on hearing after Nightfall the clattering of horses’ feet or the loud tap on his door, would feel his blood run cold in his veins for fear there was a raid on foot and perchance he might be the victim. John Walter Stephens was born October 14, 1834, in Guilford County, N. C. His parents were good people, comfortably situated on a farm, and were consistent members of the Methodist church. His father died when he was about 18 years of age, leaving a wife, four sons and two daughters. Walter, with his brothers, lived on the farm and supported the family. A few years later he learned to make harness, and went into the harness business. His education was of a very ordinary sort, for he had only the advantages of the common schools. He studied a great deal at home, however. When he grew into more matured...

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Ku Klux Clan Parade at Pulaski

During the parade at Pulaski, as it was passing a corner where a Negro was standing, one of the horsemen, dressed in a hideous garb, dismounted and stretched out his bridal rein to the Negro as if he asked him to hold his horse. The frightened darky held out his hand to receive it, and, as he did so, the Ku Klux took off his own head, apparently, and offered to place that also in the extended hand. The Negro stood not upon the order of his going but departed with a yell of terror.” Another trick was for a ghostly looking horseman to stop before the cabin of some Negro needing a wholesome lesson, and ask for a drink of water. If a gourd or dipper was brought it was declined, and a bucket of water demanded. Then, as if burning with thirst, the Ku Klux would press the bucket to his lips until the last drop was drained into an oiled sack concealed beneath his robe. He then returned the empty bucket with the remark, “That’s good. It is the first drink of water l have had since I was killed at Shiloh.” This, with a few words of admonition as to future conduct, made an impression not soon forgotten by the superstitious dairy. We now come to a second transformation of the Ku Klux; this time...

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