JUNE 10, 2006-6th UNION SPEECH
Good Morning. Most of the court cases I will be discussing today have been written about by various authors and newspaper reporters many years ago, but, first I want to tell you how we came about these records that were filed away in boxes in the basement of our court house, which is the oldest in the state.
Working from within the Hawkins County Genealogy society I formed a group of volunteers to help restore the old county loose records 1787 to 1930 and in Dec. 2004 the Hawkins County Commissioners gave me permission to clean and index them. On Jan 3, 2005 we began moving the old records from the basement of our court house to a county owned building at 955 East McKinney Avenue in east Rogersville and began cleaning the records on Jan 14th 2005.
We now have over 23,000 court cases and several hundred marriage records cleaned and indexed. This job of cleaning, storing the records in acid free folders and boxes is very expensive and was achieved from grants & donations, many of you donated. One of the first persons to come to our rescue was Brent Kennedy. He not only gave us a substantial monetary donation, but also a new Dell Computer and a Laser printer and to date over 23,000 cases have been indexed using this printer.
Brent was also instrumental in our receiving a $1000.00 grant from Wellmont Hawkins County hospital and visited us on two occasions, he was very interested in our Archive and all of us are very thankful for his interest and hopefully some day he can return.
Hawkins County was the parent county of Hancock and the old Melungeon communities of Newman Ridge, Blackwater and other Clinch River settlers who our courts referred to as Free Persons of Color. Hancock County was formed from Hawkins in 1844, but was not fully organized where they could hold court. Hancock County residents was still being tried in Hawkins County in 1848, so we have some of those old records concerning their early history.
Many of these records have survived in fairly good shape and against all odds, they have withstood a flooded basement and the Civil War, although several were destroyed from the County Court Clerks office in November 1863, when Federal Soldiers invaded the office, carried the records to the center of adjacent depot street and set them on fire, but some Federal Soldiers disagreed with this act and put the fire out.
Although we lost many marriage records, we found several of these burned records, and I have a copies of two . Part of this record is still legible, the date is 27, August 1856. This was a summons from Clinton Manis Justice of the peace asking Elizabeth Brady to give evidence in a case where James M. Moneyhun is the plaintiff and Tabitha Anderson & A.S. Vaughan are the defendants. I am related by blood to Tabitha Anderson who was a sister to my ggg Grandmother Lydia Sizemore d/o Owen Sizemore Sr. The other burned record is a marriage record June 19, 1851, it’s amazing they keep the burned records that had some visible writing on them.
From the History of Tennessee and the Tennesseans by W.T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt Volume 1 Pages 8, 179-80 we find:
“From Time memorial the Melungeons have been Counterfeiters."
Now if this is true it surely made our courts. and sure enough it did.
1820 State of Tennessee, Hawkins County vs Irby Gibson.
On a charge of Counterfeiting Bank notes -- these Notes were forged on the Bank of Virginia.In 1819 Ezekial Sullivan testified that about the first of August last, Irby Gibson showed him a note and that he believes it to be the same and told him it was good, that on the same day he saw William Stapleton present the note to Captain Rogers for examination and he said it was counterfeit. Irby was found guilty, Sterling Cocke was the State Attorney General.
This trend of passing counterfeit Bank Notes continued.
1829- State of Tennessee, Hawkins County vs William Collins
The History of Tennessee and Tennesseans also noted the Melungeons were counterfeiters of Silver and is a case dated 1824 State of Tennessee, Hawkins County vs John Bunch.
The Grand Jury for the State charged and sworn upon their Oath, Doth present and say that John Bunch being an evil disposed person, on the 18th day of March 1824 did alter and pass to a certain Morning Winstead two pieces of base metal being the counterfeit likeness of 2 silver coins of the value of 2 dollars current money in the United States and with an intention to defraud the said Mournen Winstead to the great Damage to the said Mournen Winstead to the evil example of all others in like cases against the peace and dignity of the State.
And the jurors aforesaid upon their Oath do further present and say that John Bunch of Hawkins County did Manufacture and make two (2) pieces of base metal of the size, form, likeness, shape and latitude of silver dollars!!, a coin current in the state of Tennessee to the evil example of all others. I noticed that this case had the same witness as the case against Irby Gibson, that witness was Ezekial Sullivan. John Bunch was a shrewd man, he filed a petition with the Jailor claiming he was committed as an insolvent debtor, and that petition was heard –
State of Tennessee Hawkins County, Be it remembered that on the 7 day of Jan 1825 came before us Joseph Brown and George Brown two acting Justices of the peace in and for the said county and John Bunch at the Jail of said county, and after full examination Bunch took the oath presented by the act of the General Assembly for insolvent Debtors whereupon he is discharged and agreeable to leave!!! certified under our hands and seal .
Now this is hard to believe, here is a guy who can make perfect counterfeit silver Dollars and he only made two, now this is one for the books.
Did this Winstead family receive justice? The victim Mournen Winstead was the wife of Ezekiel Winstead. Ezekial was a Baptist minister, who later drowned in the Clinch River, according to family history he was holding a revival on the opposite side of the River and a flash flood cause the river to rage and Ezekial tried to cross it going back to Morning, all I can document is his death Friday 23 Nov. 1832. This Winstead family is in my family lineage from great grandma Sarah Goins.
Saturday 15 Dec 1832
Hickery Cove Church met and set in conference all in fellowship Brother Ezekiel Winsted departed this life Friday 23 of November 1832 Dismissed in order by Brother Sanders Moderator Sam Wilson clk
In 1846 a group of Melungeons were charged with illegal voting and the charge by the state was that they were colored.
Several articles were written about these trials, one such writer was Swan Burnett who in 1889 wrote in the American Anthropologist Vol 2:
Quote-“There is at least one record in which the matter was brought before the courts, which was before the Civil War, the right by a number of people in this group to vote was questioned. The matter was finally carried before a Jury, One was found sufficiently flat-footed to be regarded a free person of color, hence not allowed to vote, while the others were determined to have enough white blood to permit them suffrage. The defense for the entire group was argued by Col John Netherland”. And this is documented by:
State vs Lewis Minor- Sept 28, 1847. This request was asking for a continuance because his council , John Netherland, could not be present, all seven cases were delayed until January 1848. Also, John Netherland's daughter Eliza Haskell wrote that her father won their freedom.
These cases all resulted from a national election held in all the districts of Hawkins County to elect Representatives, Senators, Congressmen and Governor of the state. I have found 10 who were charged for illegal voting at this time . two were found guilty and one paid a fine and cost. The case was finally heard by a Jury on Saturday Jan 29, 1848 The charge by the state was “ being free persons of color” who were not allowed to vote, or to set on a jury against a white man. More about this later.
In 1834 Tennessee added another law to the territorial act of 1794, which they had adopted, chapter one section 32 declared that all Negroes, Indians, mulattoes and all persons of mixed blood, descending from Negro or Indian ancestors to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor from each generation may have been a white person, whether bond or free should be held and deemed to be incapable in law to be a witness in any case whatever, except against each other, these illegal voting trials and other cases show that this law was applied to them.
Violating this law was the charge against the Melungeons..
Vardy Collins was indicted by the Grand Jury.
I have found most of the grand Jury verdicts and they all read the same regarding the charge.- I will read part of the Vardy Collins indictment by the Grand Jury which leaves no doubt on what the charges were.
7 August 1846- “On the 7th day of August in the year of our lord 1845 did then and there knowingly and unlawfully did vote in an election held under the constitution and laws of the United States of America and the State of Tennessee for representatives, Governor and members of the state legislature, being disqualified to vote by the laws of this state on account of color, and from being a competent witness in our courts of law in any case whatever except against each other.
This is only a small part of the reading of this indictment as it keeps repeating he was a free person of color and by voting he violated the laws of the United States and this State of Tennessee.
On Tuesday 25 May 1847 there was a settlement made as the state entered a Nollie Prosequi, I will read from the case “And therefore appeared Timothy Williams aquaintaint of the defendant and confesses judgment for the cost in this on behalf of the defendant and the said Timothy Williams Acknowledges himself the security of the defendant and for the fine and cost aforesaid and confesses judgment for the same. It is therefore concluded by the court that the state recover against the defendant and Timothy Williams the fine and cost aforesaid."
The others in this group were tried by two separate juries on Saturday 29 January 1848, after Wiatt Collins was found not guilty the state dropped the charges on Solomon, Levi, Ezekial and Andrew Collins and most likely because they were all closely related. The Judge ordered that all the cost was to be paid by the county and state.
But they proceeded to try Zachariah Minor and by another Jury. After Zachariah was found not guilty by this jury the state dropped the charges on his brother Lewis Minor and the Judge also ordered that the County and State pay all the cost of this trial.
My biggest disappointment was not finding John Netherlands' argument, but I don’t believe it was the showing of feet as mentioned by Burnett, many old articles imply the argument was Portuguese.
A PECULIAR PEOPLE 1897
Before the war the Malungeon's had a hard time in obtaining the right to vote and to send their children to the primitive public schools of that day. The white citizens declared they were Negros, and the matter finally caused so much bickering and strife between the Malungeons and the whites that it was carried into the courts. In the trials which followed it was developed that the ancestors of these people had emigrated to America about 150 years ago from the interior of Portugal.
To add credence to this story both my Minor and Goins families was enumerated as Portuguee in the 1870 federal census of Hancock County.
To have been found guilty under the act of 1794 the state would have to prove they had an Indian or Negro ancestor to the third generation which would have been from their Great Grandparents. Zachariah Minor was my 5th generation Grandfather.
This next case leaves no doubt that some of the elected officials wanted the Melungeons who they called free persons of color out of the county and the state of Tennessee.
State of Tennessee vs Ambrose Hopkins, the grand jury summoned impaneled and sworn and charged to inquire of the body of the county of Hawkins aforesaid, upon their oath present that a certain Ambrose Hopkins “A Free Man Of Color” and not a NATIVE of said county and state. On or about the first day of Jan. in the year of our lord 1845 removed himself from an adjoining state into this the said county and state aforesaid and the jurors upon their oath further present and say that the said Ambrose Hopkins a free man of color, having been duly notified more than 20 days before this Sept term of the circuit Court 1852 to LEAVE THIS THE SAID COUNTY OF HAWKINS AND STATE OF TENNESSEE.
Note the 20 days mentioned above was pertaining to the following law. In 1831 Tennessee added another law–Chapter 102 Public Acts of 1831. This act declared it unlawful “for any free person of color, whether he be born free, or emancipated agreeably to the laws in force, either now or at any time in any state within the United State to remove himself to this state and remain there more than 20 days. (Meigs Reports Vol 1 P332)
Ambrose Hopkins did not leave the state but he may have moved over in Hancock County.
In 1873 his wife Sarah C. Hopkins is suing him for a divorce stating they married in Hancock County.
”Icy Roberts age 31 being duly sworn deposed as follows, I have never seen or known anything wrong with the character of Ambrose Hopkins in my life, but Sarah C Hopkins stated in my presence that Ambrose Hopkins did not leave her that she left him and that she never would live with the nasty son of a bitch, I live near them."
Many of these old court cases are funny, the old clerks did a great job describing the cases.
Like a case of Larceny in 1867 he wrote. John Den did take and carry off a horse belonging to Richard Den.
I cannot resist telling about this case of Bigamy.
On the 7 day of March 1919 Feller Muncy married Jet Lay in Claiborne County, He turns his name around to Muncy Feller and on 20 the day of April 1919 (43 days later) married Lizzie Harrell in Hawkins County.
I am sure those of you who have followed Melungeon discussions have heard or read that these mixed-ancestry people called Melungeons were intimately connected to the other white communities around them and by a constant exchange of marriageable men and women. This eventually happened but it was a long slow process. The early Hawkins County marriage records show them marrying within the clan which agrees with the Hancock County list of 193 marriages, mid to late 1800's compiled by William P. Grohse, which disputes this claim as does this and other Hawkins County records.
In the first case State vs James Bloomer this was an assault case where Bloomer took Wilson Minor's marriage license away from his brother John Minor with force. This case was first written about by Henry Price and later by Jean Patterson Bible, Bloomer argued that Minor was a Free Person of Color and not allowed to marry whites. Bloomer was fined but appealed it to the State Supreme case where he lost, but the fine of 1 cent was a slap in the face to the Minor’s.
1855 Wilson Minor vs James Bloomer- In this case Wilson Minor was seeking damages of $5,000 because of false imprisonment. This is the continuing feud between Wilson Minor and James Bloomer and others who were preventing him from marrying a niece of James Bloomer named Lucy Jane Bloomer and they actually succeeded.
In the case of Wilson Minor vs James Bloomer and others, Wilson Minor told about being locked up for weeks and beaten, bruised and his clothes rendered, they claimed to be holding Wilson for a justice of the peace and that in December 1852, "to wit in the county aforesaid, the plaintiff and his two Brothers John Minor and Alfred Minor with force and arms assaulted and laid hold of Joseph Bloomer and then and there seized, carried away and abducted from her fathers custody care and possession his daughter Lucy Jane Bloomer for the purpose of marring her to the Plaintiff he being a Free Person of Color within the degrees prohibited by the statutes from intermarrying with a white person”. Which was the same argument used in the other case. Alfred Minor as claimed in this case was not a brother to Wilson Minor but a cousin, also Gilford Minor a brother to Alfred was also involved in a similar case that was tried in Scott County and the Minors lost and was fined by that court .
The facts are Wilson Minor never married Lucy Jane Bloomer. In fact he disappears from all records, this is the last record on him. Did his life come to a tragic end? We may never know.
I’m sure we would know more about the plight of the Melungeons if the court house in Sneedville had not burned, but in the few we have uncovers a picture of discrimination that existed against the Melungeons in the early 1800's before Hancock was formed and fully organized.
I hope you have enjoyed these cases, although the archive is not yet open to the public we don’t turn anyone away, so if there is a record you need in researching your ancestors we will be glad to help you if you come by, thank you.