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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 297


The first witness called was the jailer. Upon the announcement
of his name by the sheriff, he promptly made
his appearance; and as he was so often a witness in one
way and another, he looked around as complacently as the
“Court” itself. The clerk held out the Bible, on which
the jailer in a professional manner placed his hand, when
the subordinate official said, “Mr. Orcutt, you swear before
Almighty God, and these witnesses, that you will
whereupon Mr. Orcutt delicately kissed his own fingers,
instead of the book, the district attorney, in a solemn voice,
then asked:

“Mr. Orcutt, you are jailer of Beechland, I believe?”

“That's the understanding, considering you have known
the fact for eleven years,” said Orcutt, with a grin.

“May it please the Court,” said the major, swinging
round his arms, in sympathy with a burst of eloquence
which he could, but did not utter; “may it please the
Court, that the witness answers in a respectful manner.”

“The Court” temporarily relieved its mouth of a


Page 298
large amount of half-masticated “Old Kaintuck,” and
said, “that it was expected, and he hoped the gentleman
would understand, that — —,” and the rest of the
Court's remarks were lost in the sheriff's crying “Silence!”
on account of a horse “squealing” on the outside
of the building.

Mr. Orcutt went on:—“Mr. Toadvine come to me
just at dark for the boy Jack, and I delivered him up,
knowing Mr. Toadvine to be Mr. Mildmay's overseer.”
The jailer then gave his version of Toadvine's taking the
negro out of the jail,—leaving the impression on the mind
of the jury, however, that Toadvine did it in the most
considerate manner; at the same time, he was most positive
that after he closed the jail door, he knew nothing—
saw nothing, of Toadvine's actions or treatment of the
negro. The piece of rope that was found round Jack's
neck, was acknowledged by Orcutt to be of the same coil
in his possession.

“Was the prisoner intoxicated at the time he came
for Jack?” asked the district attorney, supposing that
Major Trimmer had done with the witness.

“I object to that question!” said Major Trimmer,
looking very fierce.

“If the Court please,” returned the district attorney,
“I will finish my examination uninterrupted, and then
hand the witness over to the defence.”

“Was the prisoner intoxicated, Mr. Orcutt?” repeated
the district attorney.

Orcutt looked confused. “Remember you are under
oath!” suggested “his honor,” picking his teeth with a


Page 299

“Mr. Toadvine was slightly, very slightly elevated!”
said Orcutt, after much hesitation.

“What do you mean by `elevated,' Mr. Orcutt?
asked the district attorney, appearing entirely at a loss as
to the witness's meaning.

Orcutt scratched his head, looked despairingly around,
stared at Major Trimmer, then at the Court, and finally
said; “By `elevated,' I mean that Mr. Toadvine `felt

The district attorney now “begged” the Court to order
the witness to answer the question direct, and he again
repeated it, with unusual emphasis on the word `intoxicated.'

“Perhaps,” said Orcutt, “he mought have been `considerable,'
and he mought not—people as stay at the
`Head-quarters' all the afternoon, if they participate
at all, get somewhat `anti-fogmatic,' but not always.
Toadvine was `straight,' now I remember, for we tossed
coppers for an odd quarter (great sensation with Major
Trimmer), and Toadvine knew which side his bread was
buttered, as quick as the soberest man as ever was in

“You can go!” said the district attorney, who, catching
Gen. Bledsoe's eye at the instant, assumed a look of
disgust at Orcutt's evident unwillingness to state a single

“You perceive, gentlemen of the jury,” now chimed
in Major Trimmer, “that the prosecutor's own witness acknowledges
that Mr. Toadvine was `straight,' when he went
for the negro boy Jack.”


Page 300

“Why didn't Orcutt say Toadvine was drunk, at
once,” said Withers, the juryman, to Buatt, “for what
harm would that have been?”

Gen. Bledsoe, after taking the oath, was requested to
state, by the district attorney, what he knew of the finding
of Jack's body.

The general, in a clear voice, and very decided manner,
stated that he was one of the very first persons that
came upon the body of the deceased; that it was evident
to the dullest intellect, from the very deep furrow, made
for more than a hundred yards in the soft mud, and the
appearance of the body itself, that it had been dragged
swiftly all that long distance. He further stated, that he
assisted with his own hands in taking the rope off of the
deceased's neck, and that he found the spinal column
not only broken from the base of the skull, but that the
muscles of the neck had been extraordinarily stretched,
while in the act of sustaining the dragging weight of the
body. As Gen. Bledsoe was a very wealthy man, and
given to taking the law in his own hands, where he was
personally concerned; he escaped, of course, any undue
cross-questioning from Major Trimmer.

Graham Mildmay was next called. After being sworn,
he stated that he knew nothing of the murder, until informed
of it by Gen. Bledsoe, and other gentlemen. He
testified that the boy Jack was, in his estimation, a harmless,
inoffensive negro; that he had never been, to his
knowledge, whipped for disobedience. That he was satisfied
that his running away was more from ignorance of the
consequences, than any thing else; and that it would




[Description: 726EAF. Illustration page. A man on horseback drags a dark-skinned man by the neck through a wooded area. A hat obscures the rider's face.]

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probably not have occurred, had he been on his plantation
at the time.”

“Do you not consider that Mr. Toadvine was unnecessarily
severe, as an overseer?” asked the district attorney.

“If I had so thought him to be,” answered Mildmay,
“I should not have employed him on my place. It was
not until since he left me, that I have become aware of the
difficulties he had in managing my negroes. Without
wishing to interfere with proper discipline,” continued
Mildmay, “I must think that Mr. Toadvine was not always
considerate, and that he acted frequently from impulses
which overcame his judgment.”

Two witnesses, much to Major Trimmer's astonishment,
were now brought in by the district attorney, who
testified, that they saw a man on the night of the murder,
going out of Beechland, with a negro tied by a rope
around the neck, following close behind his horse; but
neither would say positively, that it was Toadvine. In
fact, they both exhibited great consternation, and seemed
to be afraid of committing themselves against the prisoner,
being possessed of an idea in their minds, that the law was
powerless to protect them against the vengeance of Toadvine's
friends, in case he was convicted on their testimony;
and beyond the fact, that they saw a man going out of
town with a negro, on the night of the murder, nothing
positive was elicited.

Major Trimmer (who had been nervously watching the
progress of the trial, and was exceedingly embarrassed, not
only by the testimony, but also by the respectability of the
witnesses, which kept him from displaying his favorite


Page 302
science of cross-questioning and annoying them), now took
the case, for the moment, in his own hands, and brought
forward his witnesses.

The first witness for the defence was Stubbs, the owner
of the negro-catching dogs. He took his place at the
stand, and went through the, to him, unnecessary form of
an oath; and was requested by Major Trimmer, to be so
kind as to state to the jury what he knew of the boy Jack.

Stubbs, who had been by Major Trimmer designedly
kept in the bar-room of the “Head-quarters,” until Mildmay's
testimony had been given, got up, perfectly prepared
to answer Major Trimmer's leading questions, without regard
to their meaning or effect, which would not have been
the case, had he known all the particulars; for he knew
he was dependent upon the planters for his business, and
therefore did not like to offend them. As it was, Major
Trimmer “pumped” Stubbs to his heart's content, and
concluded as follows:

“It has been stated, Mr. Stubbs, that Jack was a very
good negro. When you arrested him, what took place?”

“Why you see,” said Stubbs, counting the ends of his
fingers in his embarrassment, “you see, that I thinks all
runaways is dangerous. Why? 'cause they mostly go
armed with `bowies.'”

“Exactly so!” said Major Trimmer, highly delighted.
“All runaways are dangerous, gentlemen of the jury, and
wear `bowies,'—please remember that, gentlemen!” and
thus saying, the major requested Stubbs to go on.

“I warn't, when I cotch't Jack, if that was his name,
arter any of Mr. Mildmay's niggers; I was, at the time, a


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trailin' for old Phil Spartan's `Juba George,' as has been
out nigh on to a year already, and has some way of deceivin'
the dogs, or keepin' them from tarin' him down.”

“Never mind about that, now!” said the district attorney,
sort of waking up.

“As I said, I was a trailin' for `Juba George,' when
Tiger opened on a hot scent, and Terror gave a yelp as
made me yell with pride at the dog's smartness; and the
hull pack commenced singing beautiful, and runnin' along
as true as a bee-line, when what should turn up but this
'ere nigger as died, when Mr. Toadvine was a takin' him

“Address the jury!” said the Court, unfolding out of
a sort of stupid doze.

“As I was saying,” continued Stubbs, turning to the
jury, and now becoming quite interested, “the dogs was
a runnin' as fine as a ha'r, when this Jack sprung up,
leaped like a deer over a tree, gave a yell and was off; but
it was no go, he come to bay in five minutes, and fou't
beautiful; I think Tige' broke out one of his front teeth
a holdin' on, and Bruiser got crippled for a week, and if
that ain't a dangersome nigger, I'd like to see one as is.”

“Then you think,” said Major Trimmer, with a slow,
hesitating voice, “that this boy, Jack, was really of bad
character, and would resist if even proper discipline was
enforced upon him?”

“I think I've tuck many niggers as guv up easier than

The sheriff then called Mr. Busteed, and the proprietor
of the well-known “Head-quarters” presented himself.


Page 304

It was a saying among the younger members of the
bar, that Busteed was a “standing witness,” and Buatt,
a “permanent juryman,” and that the two ought to enter
into business together, in these official capacities, and get
a heavy salary for their services. The fact was, that most
difficulties in Beechland commenced at the “Head-quarters,”
or could be traced directly to that popular place of
resort, consequently, Busteed's testimony was always necessary,
and what was most unaccountable to people of
weak minds, he was always on the part of the “prosecuted,”
or as he said, “taking up for them as was imposed
on by the law.”

“Was Mr. Toadvine intoxicated on the evening that he
took Jack out of jail?” asked Major Trimmer.

“How can I tell when a man's 'toxicated?” replied
Busteed, with the air of an injured man.

“But you must have some notion of such a thing!”
suggested Major Trimmer.

“Not a bit of it!” said Busteed, with a confident air,
at the same time lolling against the front of the judge's
stand. “People that are fools enough to drink bad liquor
will get sick, and that's what I tells my customers whenever
I see 'em going to `imbibe' at places they don't know
about; besides, how can I know when a man's intoxicated,—thar's
Judge Burley can carry just as much as he
can git down, without a winkin', and then there's others as
will keel up at the first glass.”

“I wish to know whether Mr. Toadvine left your house
sober, or not?” said Major Trimmer, affecting (as had


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been previously arranged with Busteed), to be very much
irritated at the witness's evasions.

“Mr. Toadvine left my house as sober as any gentlemen
do, and always does, and would!” replied Busteed,

“Wasn't he much annoyed on the evening referred to,
by losses at cards?” asked the district attorney, looking
at a piece of paper handed to him by Gen. Bledsoe.

“I demand protection of the Court for my client!”
exclaimed Major Trimmer, with great animation. “Protection,
may it please your honor, from inquisitorial and
improper questions. Whether or no my client plays cards,
is a private affair,—and the witness should not answer.”

The judge, who, as we have before hinted, was getting
very sleepy, on account of not being able to smoke while
on the bench, and who had been, half the whole time of
the proceedings, almost oblivious to what was going on before
him, now roused himself, and discharging his tobacco
on the floor, and tasting of the water before him, as if its
primitive purity was nauseating to the last degree, he put
on his spectacles in a careful manner, looked Busteed full
in the face, and solemnly said:

“The Court will see that not only the witnesses are
protected, but also that the bar and the bench are respected.”

This sudden ebullition of official dignity had a great
effect on the spectators; many of them stopped talking and
laughing, and things would for the moment have been
quiet calm and dignified, had not the sheriff startled the


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crowd by bawling at the top of his voice, “Silence! silence!—Mr.
Orcutt! Mr. Orcutt!”

The worthy jailer at the sound came rushing out of
the “Head-quarters,” where he had been looking after
Busteed's customers, while that gentleman was “legally
engaged; and mounting the witnesses' stand, almost entirely
out of breath, he wiped his lips with his coat-sleeve,
and observed to the clerk, that “he was ready to take a

The clerk reminded Mr. Orcutt that he was still under
the weighty responsibility of an oath, as a witness in the
case of the State v. Toadvine, and that the form alluded
to would not be repeated.

“Mr. Orcutt,” said Major Trimmer, rising with dignity,
and opening a volume of Blackstone, which he held
upside down in his hands; Mr. Orcutt, please state to this
honorable jury, whether or no the boy Jack was sick while
under your charge in jail?”

“He wasn't sick as I knows on,” returned the witness,
eyeing Trimmer intently, as much as to ask, “Why didn't
you post me up before the trial on this point?—what are
you driving at?”

“You say,” said Major Trimmer, looking very earnest,
and seizing a pen, that the boy was not sick?”

“No, I don't, though,” said Orcutt, brightening up;
“I don't say nothing of the kind, because I wouldn't say
under oath of niggers in jail, that the wellest-looking of
them wasn't sick.”

“Then there is a great deal of sickness in the jail?”

“Why, generally thar is 'mong the runaways when


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they first come in, for although they get better victuals
with us, they get less air and exercise.”

“And the boy Jack suffered as others do?”

“He did complain of the dog-bite on the calf of his
leg, but nothing more, as I recollect.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Orcutt, that none of the prisoners
were sick with cholera?”

The jailer reflected for a few seconds, and said, “that
he believed one of the prisoners was troubled that way;
but which one, he didn't know:” and with this answer,
he retired.

“Colonel Price!” shouted the sheriff; and the name
was no sooner uttered, than that portly worthy presented
himself. Major Trimmer, who seemed to be very much
delighted with “the colonel's” appearance, asked the witness:—

“Do you think, Colonel Price, that Mr. Toadvine is a
mild or a severe man with niggers?”

“Mild—very mild,” replied the colonel.

“What reason, Colonel Price, have you for declaring
Mr. Toadvine to be `mild—very mild?'”

“'Cause he'd let niggers off for nothing that 'ud get
staked down by me, and have forty,” replied the colonel,
flushing with excitement.

“Colonel Price,” said the district attorney, “do you
know any thing about the defendant's whipping the deceased
before he ran away?”

“Who's defendant,—and what's deceased?” asked the
colonel, an idea passing through his mind that the district


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attorney was quizzing him, because he was not a “college
educated” man.

“I mean,” said the district attorney, “did Mr. Toadvine
ever whip Jack to your knowledge?”

“Sartain he did,” said the colonel, looking very
blank; “sartain he did, and by my advice, too.”

Major Trimmer was again upon his feet, and with a
loud voice he appealed to the Court to know, if witnesses
were obliged to answer questions relating to their private
business, particularly gentlemen overseers, regarding their
punishment of negroes.

Price thought that Trimmer asked him the question,
and he vehemently replied:

“I rather think I ain't obliged to answer any questions
that I don't want to, and you may depend on that.

“The Court” seemed very much delighted with its
temporary mouth-piece.

“How much was Jack whipped by Mr. Toadvine on
your suggestion, Colonel Price?” pursued the district

“Just as much,” replied the colonel, “as Toadvine
had grease in his back to work his arms with; and since
you want to know so many particulars,” said the colonel,
turning to the district attorney, “I would just say, that
if any man gets out a 'dictment agin me for killing a nigger,
I'll cut his —”

“Silence!” said the sheriff;—“Take him out!” cried
the lawyers; “Go it, old colonel!” vociferated the “outsiders.”

The judge finally leaned over, and said to the deputy


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sheriff, “Take `the colonel' out of the court, or I shall
be under the unpleasant necessity of committing him for

“Oh, come out of the court—I want to tell you something,”
whispered the officious deputy.

Price gazed upon the speaker vacantly, for he was
very much intoxicated, and walked quietly through the
crowd into the street. Quiet being restored, it was announced
that “the defence was closed.”

Meanwhile, Gen. Bledsoe and the particular friends
who came with him to Beechland in the morning, formed
a group by themselves, and seemed in angry conference.
Expressions of contempt for the whole proceedings of the
trial were to be heard, reminding one of the mutterings of
a coming storm; the judge was denounced as one of
“Busteed's right-hand men,”—the jury, as “a set of packed
rascals,”—the district attorney, as “an ass,”—and Trimmer,
“as a parasite upon the community in which he

Mildmay, who had left home at the cost of neglecting
important business that required his personal attention;
and feeling sorely disgusted at all he had witnessed, called
Gen. Bledsoe apart, stated the facts, and announced his
intention of returning home at once.

“I would go by all means,” said Gen. Bledsoe, without
hesitation, “if my presence were needed elsewhere.
You now see, Mr. Mildmay,” exclaimed the general, with
some feeling, “that that scoundrel, Toadvine, will cheat
the gallows after all; you will learn, when you have lived
here a few more years, that we are obliged sometimes to


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take the law into our own hands, if we would not have it
violated with impunity.”

“It is a fearful alternative,” sighed Mildmay; and
cordially shaking Gen. Bledsoe by the hand, he musingly
pursued his way to Heritage Place.

Some little excitement existed among the spectators
preceding the “opening of the prosecution.” After a few
general remarks, the district attorney, who was quite a
young man, said:—

“The defendant stands charged with murder. In accordance
with just mercy, the laws of Louisiana make no
invidious distinctions against the negro, when we come to
the protection of his life; and the white man, who with
malice aforethought, wilfully kills the humblest slave, has
committed in the eye of the law the highest crime known
to our statutes.

“In all cases of death by violence, the law presumes
it to be done in malice until the contrary be proved: this
is so construed for the protection of life. If, therefore,
you are satisfied that the killing was done with malice,
and find no extenuating circumstances, you cannot do less
than what the law demands of you.

“In the operation of our police regulations, a negro
is committed to jail; in due course of time, the overseer
calls at the place of the slave's confinement,—obtains possession
of him,—ties one end of a rope around the slave's
neck, and the other to the pommel of his saddle,—and
before a half mile is accomplished, the negro becomes exhausted,
is dragged through the mud for more than a hundred


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yards, and is then cut loose, and left in the road,
being perfectly dead.

“The peculiar character of our institutions requires
that the master should necessarily delegate a great deal of
power to his confidential agent—the overseer; but that
authority is to be exerted wisely, and, except in extreme
cases, violence is not to be used. I am sorry to say, gentlemen,
that the abuse of power by overseers is becoming
too common; it is a source of alarm to the thinking people
of the community, that there is exhibited a growing
wantonness in the sacrifice of this species of property, and
the consequent shedding of human blood. Unless, gentlemen,
we protect our slaves,—unless the strong arm of the
law is exerted to shield them from the death-dealing influences
of irresponsible white men, society among us will
rapidly degenerate into barbarism, and there will settle
down upon us a cloud deeper and more terrible than that
which once overwhelmed Egypt.

“You have, also, gentlemen, a duty to perform, which
should be one to you of serious consideration. There are
fanatics at the North, who make it their unrighteous business
to vilify and misrepresent the South. It is such
cases, as we have here to-day presented, that give foundation
to the misrepresentations we have alluded to; and
we are bound, as we wish to have our community protected
by the powerful support of the sanction of good men of
every land, to punish those who would give force to the
odium that is heaped upon us. We must let no more
feathers, plucked from the breast of our own body politic,


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give certainty of aim to these shafts of abuse, and then
will they fall harmless to the ground.

“The most responsible,—the most honorable men of
our community, have given in their testimony to-day. It
has been shown by Mr. Orcutt, that the accused tied the
deceased with a rope around the neck previous to the leaving
of the jail; it has been proven that the prisoner was
seen leaving the town at dusk,—the negro following close
in the rear. It has been shown by the testimony of such
gentlemen as General Bledsoe, and others of equal moral
veracity, that the deceased was found in the road, his neck
broken, and with all the corresponding marks of a fearful

“Mr. Mildmay, the owner of the deceased, states distinctly,
that the victim of brutality was unexceptionable
in character; and although a family servant, grown up
under his own eye, yet no recollection was had that the
deceased was ever struck a blow for insubordination, or
any other cause of disobedience whatever. In view of all
these facts, gentlemen, it is for you to vindicate the sincerity
of our laws, passed for the protection of the slave,
and show those who are willing to trample them under
foot, that it cannot be done with impunity. Spurn not
the cries of blood that come from the ground, because that
blood flowed from the heart of a poor African slave. Remember
that the eye of Heaven is no respecter of persons;
feel the full force of the demand made upon you, from the
very fact, that the murdered victim was helpless,—was
unsupported,—had no family influence,—no position; that
he was a helpless, unoffending negro slave, with no inheritance,


Page 313
but a desire to render cheerful obedience to his superiors;
with no one to avenge his wrongs, but the decision
of a conscientious and enlightened jury.”

There was no applause expressed at the conclusion of
the district attorney's speech, for, as Puckett said to Busteed,
“there was nothing in it to make a man yelp.”
The moment, however, that it was announced that Major
Trimmer was “to begin the defence,” there was great
excitement among the spectators. The bar-room of the
“Head-quarters” was vacated in a moment by quite a
number of individuals who had found the “prosecution
tedious,” but who were very anxious to hear the “scathing
eloquence” of “the most distinguished criminal lawyer
in the district.”

It was perfectly understood that the major would
“exalt himself” on this particular occasion. He was always
a candidate for political honors, and, as in law practice,
was always on either one side or another, and as an
election was near at hand, he had expressed to an intimate
friend the opinion, that he thought he might take advantage
of his defence of Toadvine to say something so handsome
of the overseers as a body, that he could secure their
influence at the polls.

The major began by saying, “that he felt deeply the
fearful responsibility resting upon him, but that he was
afraid that his astonishment at the fact of his client being
tried at all for killing the negro Jack, would overcome
his ability to do justice to the mighty wrongs his client
had suffered, in this unjust and absurd prosecution.”
When the major concluded this opening sentence, Toadvine


Page 314
looked, for the first time since the trial began, at the

The major proceeded:—“If I were left to consult my
own feelings, I should submit my injured client's cause
without argument to your keeping; but, honored gentlemen,
I should be doing injustice to society, to good morals,
and to the rights of an American sovereign, if I did
not here before this honorable court, before these enlightened
arbiters, and before this chivalrous audience, express
my opinion; and in my official capacity as a member of
this bar, enter my protest against the unnecessary and extraordinary
legal proceedings which have been made to
sacrifice the liberty and happiness of one of our most useful,
and, poor man though he be, I will add, one of our
most influential citizens.

“Gentlemen of the jury, who is my client? I answer,
a person I have long known, and been intimate with;
an individual, who forms one of the bright galaxy of overseers—those
noble men, who control our servile population,—who
brave the heats of a tropical sun in the performance
of their arduous duties,—who sleep at night
beside their arms, to be ready to defend whom—themselves?
No, gentlemen of the jury, to defend their employers—the
lordly planters—from insubordination and
insurrection; a class of men, who risk their life daily, and
take a sum of money as remuneration, which would be as
nothing, if they were not inspired by patriotism,—were
not philanthropists by trade; of such, gentlemen, is Sylvanus
Toadvine, who now sits before you. And this is the
man possessed of so many admirable qualities, who has


Page 315
been by the most unwarrantable legal proceedings incarcerated
in a common jail, and left to linger out a miserable
existence, for what?—for what, I say, gentlemen?
Simply, because a dead negro was found in the same road,
that my respected client passed over on his way to Mr.
Mildmay's plantation.

“My legal brother, the district attorney, has stated,
that it was proven beyond a doubt, that a negro had been
killed. Where is the authority for such a presumption?
It has been shown past contradiction that a negro was
dead, which negro, as I shall show, probably died of a fatal
disorder, from what is termed a natural cause; and no
personal violence had any thing to do with the case.

“Now what are the facts? Simply these. The defendant
is overseer on a large plantation; he has the control
of sixty or eighty brutalized Africans, who require
his constant attention; he has contracted with their master
to cultivate a certain amount of land, and produce a
fixed number of bales of cotton. To do this, and escape
losing the reputation of a business man, the overseer labors
night and day, and is properly intrusted with the sole control
and management of the slave gang.

“The overseer knows well the disposition of the negro,
and while the master is treading, with dainty steps, his
marble halls, the faithful overseer is winding his devious
way through interminable swamps; while the master is
lounging upon the delicate ethereal spring-made ottoman,
the overseer makes his couch upon the hard, cold ground;
while the master is indulging in the delights of the table
groaning beneath the luxuries of every clime, the overseer


Page 316
is frugally eating his meal of bacon and greens; while the
master sees his negroes fat, sleek, happy, and idle, the
overseer beholds them as the necessary objects of strict
discipline, and is forced to make them do their work.

“Therefore, gentlemen of the jury, when the owner
of a negro comes into court, and under oath declares that
negro to have been without a fault,—to have been well-behaved
and harmless, that owner acts conscientiously, believes
what he says, speaks what he thinks is true; but the
overseer, gentlemen, can alone know the facts,—one word
from Col. Price, a disinterested and capable witness, as to
the outrageous insubordination of the deceased, is worth
whole volumes of presumption from the good-natured, and
where the affections are concerned, easily deceived master
Having satisfied you, gentlemen (as a mere incident), of
the savage and barbarous character of this negro, Jack,
for it is not necessary for me, in any way to strengthen the
defence, to dwell upon the subject, I will examine the testimony
adduced for the attempted proof, that he died by the
hands of my injured client.

“It is stated by Mr. Orcutt, that Mr. Toadvine left
the jail with Jack; and two respectable witnesses swear
that they saw a man, on the evening of `the murder,' going
out of Beechland, a negro following at his horse's heels,
with a rope tied round his neck.

“Well, gentlemen of the jury, I have had some practice
in criminal cases, but I never have had so weak a one
before to defend. Mr. Orcutt says that the boy was tied—
of course he was tied,—was Mr. Toadvine to risk his life
in the hands of a desperate and dangerous runaway, armed


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with a `bowie;' an outlaw, burning with revenge because
he had been properly punished,—was he to risk himself
alone in the dark forests that lie between Beechland and
Heritage Place, with such a negro, except that negro
were bound—with manacles and chains, we should say?
But my client, from his urbane disposition, kindness of
heart, and unusual bravery, was content with a single

“But two witnesses swear they saw a man going out
of town, with a negro at his horse's heels, and a rope around
his neck. Gentlemen, I do not wish to impugn the motives
of these witnesses, but I leave it to your imagination
to comprehend, how distinctly they could see a rope
in the dusk of the evening, and also to decide, if, because
a man went out of Beechland, as these witnesses testify,
it must necessarily have been my client, or the insubordinate
and dangerous Jack.

“The district attorney has dwelt at length on the fact,
that the law announces the punishment of murder for killing
a negro; he therefore argues that if the crime be proved,
the law should be executed. Let me say, gentlemen, that
these laws, so inconsistent with our feelings and our institutions,
are borrowed from the common law of England;
they were made for serfs, not independent, enlightened
Southern men; and although they are legally living on our
statute books, they are virtually dead; repealed by the superiority
of our enlightened public opinion, by custom, and
by necessity.

“Suppose, for a moment, that my client did kill Jack,
is the law such an absurdity; is the perfection of human


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reason such nonsense, that it can, in one breath, make the
same thing a chattel, a table, a wash-tub; and in the next
respiration, declare it to be a feeling, reasoning, sensible
being? If my supposition were true, and if the law were
consistent, it would be your duty, gentlemen, to bring in a
verdict of damages. Property alone has been destroyed—
let reparation be made. This construction would be in
accordance with equity, and in accordance with the spirit of
our peculiar institutions. To forfeit the life of a white
man, a sovereign citizen, for a miserable piece of property
that is bought and sold, put up at auction, bartered away,
has no rights, is by law real estate—is the sublime of absurdity,
and makes men of sense pronounce a trial like this
to be indeed a farce.

“It is not true, gentlemen, that a law is a law, because
it is upon the statute book. The same law that in England
is construed to mean murder in the first degree, when
brought before our enlightened courts, and our independent
juries, is translated to be `justifiable homicide.' In
this country public opinion controls and governs the conduct
of all men, and we are forced to act in obedience to
its potential voice, whatever law to the contrary may exist.
You will pardon me, gentlemen of the jury, for this
digression, and coming back to the trial under consideration,
I shall endeavor to treat it with all due solemnity, and
at least to go through the forms of a defence, however unnecessary
it may be.

“My client did tie a rope around the boy Jack, and
why? Because he was afraid, unless he had him in the most
complete manner in his power, he would slay him before


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he, Toadvine, reached his home. Can you not imagine,
gentlemen, a thousand ways in which the negro could have
been killed, while in this condition, by his own self-will,
his own insubordination? Would it be an unnatural thing
in negro history, to suppose that this `amiable Jack' designedly
held back, determined to die rather than return
to the plantation? Can you not imagine Mr. Toadvine's
horse, which was young and fractious, suddenly taking
alarm, and dragging the negro to the earth, when it was
entirely beyond my client's power to anticipate such an
accident, or control it when it occurred? But, gentlemen,
this was not all,—death is not such a rare occurrence
among negroes, that when one dies he must necessarily
have been murdered. Mr. Orcutt clearly testifies that
there was cholera among the prisoners, and could not Jack,
with his bowie knife, have cut himself loose from the rope
he was tied with, and by sudden exposure to the night
air, after his previous comfortable lodgment in the jail,
died upon the road from the effects of this prostrating

“But, gentlemen, I perceive that I am wasting your
precious time by my unnecessary remarks, yet I must, before
I close, allude to one extraordinary appeal, made to
you by the district attorney. Not content to take every advantage
of the technicalities of the law, to prejudice you
against the prisoner, he has threatened you with the indignation
of `the fanatics of the North,' as a penalty for
letting the innocent go free. I am shocked at such a sentiment,
uttered by a Southern lawyer to a chivalrous Southern
jury. What care we for the `favorable opinion of the


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good people of the North,' as my legal brother, in a moment
of unguarded reflection, has called the `abolition
fanatics of the free States?' If they demand punishment
upon my client, then you have a just cause for letting him go
free; if he had killed a hundred negroes, our liberties, our
religion, our all are in danger, the moment we make the
least concession to the enemies of our cherished institutions.

“Gentlemen, I leave my client in your hands; you
have the noble, the exalted, the majestic right, to unloose
the hold of justice upon him; you can open his prison
doors, and bid him go free. Restore him, gentlemen, to
his exalted position in society as a citizen. Remember,
that the blind goddess of Justice is looking down upon
you, anxiously waiting to see you vindicate her purity,—
that the Angel of Liberty has her pen in hand, ready to
inscribe upon the stars and stripes, that Toadvine and our
country are free,—that the American eagle is standing
upon the apex of the Rocky Mountains, with outstretched
wings, one eye bent upon this interesting scene, and the
other, unblenched, staring at the noonday sun, ready in
his exalted flight to scream, `Give me liberty, or give me

Great and continuous cheering by the jury and audience
now interrupted the major, who bowed repeatedly to
his admirers, and in a satisfied and oracular voice, he concluded:

“Before you retire, gentlemen of the jury, the honored
Court will give you the usual charge; you will hear the
law expounded, sanctioned by the `sacred ermine,' so long


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sanctified as the outward symbol of the unsullied purity
of the law.—[Here the judge smoothed down his Arkansas
blanket coat.]—Your verdict I already anticipate; confident
of acquittal, I leave my respected client in your disposal.”

The moment that the applause called forth by Major
Trimmer's eloquence had ceased, the sheriff vociferously
called out order, order; and then taking a lounging negro
by the shoulder, rudely thrust him out of doors, to show
his vigilance in the public welfare; this being done, the
“ermine” delivered itself as follows:

“Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the testimony
on both sides of this case, and”—here the “ermine”
yawned, and then went on: “if you think the prisoner
guilty, you will bring in a verdict accordingly; if you think
him innocent, you will bring in a verdict accordingly!”—
the remainder of the “charge” became so indistinct, that the
jurors, presuming that the “ermine” had concluded, headed
by the sheriff, left their seats, and in a moment more could
be heard, in shuffling sounds, overhead.

The moment the “twelve honest men” were left to
themselves, for deliberation, they proceeded at once to
elect a “foreman,” which being done, a general conversation
ensued, about crops, races, hard seats in the jury box,
and Major Trimmer's speech. It was generally agreed
that it was one of his tamest efforts, and this was accounted
for by the fact, “that the trial being only about a
nigger, didn't call forth his best style.” A “piney woods'
man” remarked, that he had shot a great many eagles,
but he didn't see how one of them could look down and


Page 322
upward at the same time, but he s'posed Major Trimmer's
bird “was cross-eyed.”

Buatt, who had been exceedingly restless throughout
the whole trial, and had not hesitated to express it in every
allowable way, now that he was in the jury-room, where
he could speak, deliberately took off his overcoat, and
folding it up for a pillow, stretched himself out upon a
bench, remarking, “You know my sentiments,—I'm for
hanging the jury, I don't care how your verdict is!” and in
a few moments he fell into a profound slumber.

The foreman said there was no use of going down
stairs immediately, that it would look better to appear to
deliberate awhile, at least; and he started a very animated
conversation about the coming election, in which the different
members of the jury entered warmly, and freely expressed
their opinions of the “prominent candidates.”

The sun had gone down, and as most of the jurors had
become thirsty, it was decided to take down the verdict of
“not guilty,” which was agreed upon, without any formal
consultation; but there was the stubborn Buatt, ready to
differ with his eleven compeers, no matter how they decided,
and who, if not managed, might keep them prisoners,
at the mercy of the judge.

The foreman finally struck upon a bright idea; he
told all to say they were for “guilty,” and then waking
up Buatt, that worthy was informed that the jury had
“agreed.” “How?” asked Buatt, still half asleep.
“Guilty!” was the universal exclamation. “Well, I'm
`not guilty,'” said Buatt, turning over to take another
nap. The foreman then said, “Here, Buatt, put down


Page 323
your name to `not guilty,' and let's go down and tell the
judge we are hung.” Buatt readily consented, and signed
his name to the verdict as requested, whereupon the foreman
suddenly exclaimed:

“Gentlemen, thar's no use a-staying here all night,—
let's go over to Buatt's side, and get done with the business.”
The proposition was instantly agreed to, and a
general laugh ensued at Buatt's expense. At first, he
was quite indignant, but soon became reconciled; and as
the jury was going to report to the “ermine,” he said,
“If you hadn't played that trick on me, I intended to
keep you tied up for three days; there's the bread and
cheese I had to do it on,” and he pointed to a large package
that protruded from his coat pocket.

The moment the jury retired, Gen. Bledsoe was seen
moving about on the outside of the court-house. He had
private consultations with different persons; and as the
sun disappeared, a number of armed men might have been
seen stationed at different points,—all appearing intent on
some special object. Two were side by side, and as they
examined their double-barrel fowling-pieces, one remarked,
“There cannot be a doubt but that the jury will bring in
a verdict of not guilty, but we will teach him that there's
law outside the court-house, if there is none in it.”

The increasing darkness had settled upon the court-room,—the
two or three candles that were burning only
gave a sepulchral effect to the many spectators, who in
silent groups remained to see the end, for it was rumored
that Toadvine was “to be lynched,” if let off by the jury.
The prisoner maintained his place beside his counsel,


Page 324
still wearing that marked blanket coat; and he occasionally
looked out of doors with nervous apprehension. It
was evidently from that quarter that he apprehended

Presently there was a movement of the jury overhead,
and its members could be heard descending the stairs,
which gave the usual signal that the jury had agreed
upon a verdict. Every body commenced crowding round
the judge's stand, and universal confusion prevailed. The
jury appeared, and after the usual preliminaries, each
member answered “not guilty,” as his name was called
by the clerk. This done, “the ermine” complimented
the jury on its attention, and the high-toned manner with
which it had conducted itself,—announced it “discharged;”
and declared the prisoner free. Amid a great
deal of confusion, a shout went up from the crowd; Gen.
Bledsoe heard the offensive noise,—knew what it meant,
and gnashed his teeth in anger “Now,” said he, to some
persons near him, “let us vindicate the outraged laws.”

Every one now moved but the late prisoner; there he sat,
from his dress the most conspicuous person in the court-house,
as if overcome with emotion; he stirred not, but burying
his face, remained statue-like and still. Soon the self-constituted
arbiters of the law, who were hovering outside in
the darkness, became impatient for their prey, and some,
unable longer to restrain their fury, amidst terrible oaths
and imprecations, rushed into the court-room, to seize him
where he sat, when, lo and behold! instead of the sinister
face of Toadvine, there was revealed the honester one
of Puckett!


Page 325

In the confusion of the giving in of the verdict, Toadvine,
who had throughout acted under Major Trimmer's
instructions, had shed his coat, slipped unperceived through
the cordon of his enemies, and at that very moment, was
swiftly speeding down the rapid current of the Mississippi