Transcripts of Trial, 1863, from Stateburg, S.C.| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Front Page 2009 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009
Two manuscripts, 17 February and 30 March 1863, contemporary copy of transcript from a case in Sumter District, S.C., tried before the Magistrate and Freeholders Court convened at Stateburg, 17 February 1863, in which John, Big John, and Smith, African-American slaves of Dr. M.S. Moore, were charged with grand larceny.
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Claimant W.J. Seale alleged that his smokehouse had been burglarized on 31 January 1863 and a considerable quantity of bacon stolen, that he had tracked the robbers near the plantation of Dr. M.S. Moore and, after obtaining a search warrant, had searched the premises. A portion of the meat was found in the possession of a young slave, John, who acknowledged the theft and claimed that Big John and Smith assisted in the robbery.
The transcript includes brief testimony of Cato, another slave, who was called as a witness in the case. The five-man jury found John guilty and sentenced him to twelve months imprisonment in solitary confinement and to receive twenty straps on the bare back at the end of every month. It was agreed that during the term of solitary confinement Dr. Moore could sell John out of the state by obtaining an order from the magistrate. Smith was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment in solitary confinement and to receive twenty-five straps on the bare rump at the end of every month. Big John was found not guilty. The case was tried before magistrate Isaac N. Lenoir.
The accompanying manuscript, issued by G.S.C. Deschamps, clerk of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of Sumter District, on 30 March 1863 and bearing an intact seal of Sumter District, attests that Deschamps had received from Lenoir and had on file the proceedings in the aforementioned case.
The Court of Magistrates and Freeholders had nearly exclusive jurisdiction over criminal cases involving slaves and free persons of color and was the court of trial for violations of vagrancy laws. The court tried a variety of cases, ranging from petty larceny, disorderly conduct, and vagrancy, to more serious crimes, which could incur the death penalty. S.C. Statute 1800(7: 440) gave the court jurisdiction over endorsing manumissions. A manumission would become legal only after the court had first investigated the capacity of the slave to function in a free society and then issued a certificate of examination which was attached to a deed of emancipation recorded by the clerk of court. After 1820, slaves could only be emancipated by an act of the legislature (S.C. Statute 1820(7)459).
This court dates from the colonial era, beginning with its creation through S.C. Statute 1690 (7: 343) and S.C. Statute 1712(7)352. The law was revised in 1740, 1743, and 1783. S.C. Statute 1735(7)385 required that the records of trials be certified and sent to the clerk of the crown and peace at Charleston, there to be kept of record. After decentralization of the court system, records were retained in their respective districts.
Upon receiving a complaint, a magistrate would issue a warrant for the apprehension of the alleged offender and summon witnesses to be examined. If he judged the evidence sufficient, he would so certify to the next magistrate who would join with him in summoning three additional freeholders to sit with them as a court. Essentially, it was a non-jury court, with a specified number of magistrates and freeholders always constituting a quorum in order to convict. The court could inflict any punishment prescribed by law. Death sentences were carried out immediately by the constables or marshal. Reforms instituted in 1833 restricted some of the more severe punishments and set up an appeals system. This reform was intended to prevent burning at the stake after there was a public outcry over the burning of a slave named Jerry in 1825.
With the creation of the District Court in 1865, the magistrates retained their jurisdiction in civil suits up to $20.00 in which either party was a person of color. Separate courts based on race were abolished with the ratification of the S.C. State Constitution of 1868.