Adams v. Roberts
43 U.S. 486

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adams v. Roberts, 43 U.S. 2 How. 486 486 (1844)

Adams v. Roberts

43 U.S. (2 How.) 486

Syllabus

On the trial of a petition for freedom, a paper was produced, which was a copy of a deed of manumission, executed in December, 1801, by the owner of certain slaves in Virginia (and amongst them, the mother of the petitioner, to become free on 1 January, 1814), to which paper the names of two persons were attached as witnesses. In January, 1802, the grantor went into court in Fairfax County, Virginia, and ordered it to be recorded, but it did not appear whether the two witnesses were then with him or not. The grantor resided in the District of Columbia.

Under these circumstances, and under the statute of Virginia passed December 17, 1792, a prayer to the court to instruct the jury that the petitioner was not entitled to freedom was properly refused.

The mother of the petitioner becoming free on 1 January, 1814, the exact time of the birth of the petitioner, whether before or after that day, was a fact for the jury, and a prayer to the court which would have excluded the consideration of that fact was properly refused.

Page 43 U. S. 487

Julia Roberts, a colored woman, sued in the circuit court for her freedom under the following circumstances.

Anterior to the cession to the United States of that portion of Virginia which is now comprehended within the District of Columbia, Simon Summers resided in it, and was the owner of a female slave named Sarah, who, it was admitted, was the mother of Julia, the petitioner in the court below.

On 30 December, 1801, Summers executed a deed of manumission of several negroes, and amongst them, Sarah, then about eighteen years old, to be free on 1 January, 1814; and the deed further provided that the children of Sarah should be free at the age of twenty-five years.

Before the execution of this deed of manumission, Summers had been transferred, by virtue of the cession from Virginia, to the District of Columbia. The deed concludes as follows:

"As witness my hand and seal, this 30 December, 1801."

"SIMON SUMMERS [L.S.]"

"Test. CHARLES LITTLE"

"HARRISON CLEAVELAND."

"At a court held for Fairfax County, 18th day of January, 1802, Simon Summers acknowledged this deed of manumission, to the several negroes therein mentioned, to be his act and deed, which is ordered to be recorded."

"Test. WILLIAM MOSS, Clerk"

"A copy. Test. S. M. BALL."

This deed was acknowledged before and recorded in the court of Fairfax County, Virginia, in which county Summers had lived prior to the cession to the United States. After the cession, he became thereby a resident of Alexandria County, in the District of Columbia, without changing his domicile.

The statute of Virginia in force in Alexandria County is the 36th section of the Act of the General Assembly of Virginia passed 17 December, 1792, entitled "an act to reduce into one the several acts concerning slaves, free negroes, and mulattoes." Sec. 36, will be found at 191 of Pleasant's edition of the laws of Virginia, published in 1803, and is in the following words:

"It shall be lawful for any person by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing under his or her hand

Page 43 U. S. 488

and seal, attested and proved in the county or corporation court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides, to emancipate and set free his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act."

The original deed of manumission, after being recorded, was mislaid or lost, but a paper, admitted to be a true copy, was produced upon the trial. It was admitted that the petitioner, Julia, was the daughter of Sarah, and was, at the time the suit was brought, over twenty-five years of age.

The trial took place at May term, 1842. Much evidence was given which is embodied in the following bill of exceptions and which is set forth at large because the prayer in the second bill of exceptions refers to and is based upon it.

"1st Bill of Exceptions"

"At the trial of this cause, the petitioner having given evidence tending to show that previous to the year 1801, Sarah, the mother of the petitioner, was the property of Simon Summers, and remained in his possession until about the year 1799, when she was placed by said Summers in the possession of Wesley Adams, who about that time married the daughter of said Summers, and who lived then, and continued to live for many years thereafter, in Fairfax County, Virginia, then gave evidence that diligent search had been made among the records of Fairfax County, Virginia, for an original deed of manumission of said petitioner's mother by said Summers, but no such original deed could be found, and that the same is lost; but that there was among said records the enrollment of a deed, whereof the annexed paper, marked A, is admitted to be a true copy, and of the certificates of acknowledgment and the recording of the same. And further offered evidence that said deed was personally acknowledged by the said Simon Summers, in the County Court of the said County of Fairfax -- the said slave Sarah being then there in the said county and having always before resided in the said county. And the petitioner then read in evidence the said paper marked A, purporting to be the copy of a deed of manumission from said Summers, of the negro woman named Sarah, named therein, and then gave evidence tending to show that the petitioner was the child of said

Page 43 U. S. 489

named Sarah, and is now about 38 (28) years of age, and further gave evidence tending to show that the defendant Harding makes no claim to the petitioner in her own right, but solely by the direction of her co-defendant Adams, who is the son of the Wesley Adams above named, and his said wife the daughter of said Summers. And the petitioner further gave evidence tending to show that about the year 1820, the said Wesley Adams brought Sarah, the petitioner's mother, to the public poor house in Fairfax County, State of Virginia, and applied to the overseers of the poor for said county for alimony for said Sarah as a free woman of color, and her two small children; and that a levy was made upon said county for their support, and they were supported until the year 1826, when a levy was made for the support of said Sarah and the three children which she then had with her, but among whom the petitioner was not included, and that said levy, when raised, was placed in the hands of said Wesley Adams for their support as aforesaid. And further gave evidence tending to show that Sarah passed as free for a number of years, and that Wesley Adams, about the year 1826, said that Sarah and her children were free, and that the said Adams wanted to sell the petitioner to a witness, to serve him until she should reach twenty-five years of age, when she was to go free, and that Simon Summers had given slaves to him in such a way as to be of no service to him, as they became free so soon as they became valuable. And the petitioner further gave evidence tending to prove that at the division of the estate of Simon Summers, who died in 1836, the defendant Adams was present, and that in said division the said Sarah was brought into hotch-pot -- that is, Wesley Adams was charged as distributee of Simon Summers' estate, with the value of the services of said Sarah, up to the year 1814, when she went free, and up to which time the said Summers had allowed her to serve Wesley Adams. And the plaintiff further offered evidence to prove that the said Simon Summers resided in the County of Fairfax before and until 27 February, 1801, when the County of Alexandria was erected, consisting of a part of the said County of Fairfax; and the then residence of the said Simon Summers fell within the said County of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, without any change of his actual residence; that the slaves mentioned in the deed of emancipation had always resided in the said County of Fairfax up to the date of the said deed, and to the time of its acknowledgment as aforesaid."

"The defendants then offered evidence tending to prove that an

Page 43 U. S. 490

order was made by the overseers of the poor of the said County of Fairfax, in 1825, to demand of the said Wesley Adams the $20 advanced him for the support of Sarah's infant children."

"The defendants then gave evidence tending to show that said Sarah died some years ago, on the land of John Adams, and after remaining two days there, was buried at the expense of the defendant, Austin L. Adams."

"The defendants then gave evidence tending to show that at the date of the paper, marked A, viz., 30 December, 1801, the said Simon Summers was a resident of the County of Alexandria, District of Columbia, and did not reside in Fairfax County, Virginia. But the witnesses who proved the said residence of said Summers proved on cross-examination that at said last-mentioned date, the said Sarah was in the possession of Wesley Adams, in Fairfax County, Virginia, and that at said date Simon Summers owned 200 acres of woodland in said Fairfax County, and was interested in another tract of land in said Fairfax County, on which there was a house, and which was cultivated land, but which was tenanted by one Furguson, and that said Simon Summers resided before 1800 in Fairfax County, in Virginia, and never removed from the place where he then resided, but that the place of his residence was included within the lines of the District of Columbia, and that he continued to reside in the same place until his death."

"Whereupon the defendants, by their counsel, prayed the court to instruct the jury that if they shall believe from the above evidence that the said Simon Summers did reside in the County of Alexandria, District of Columbia, at the time of the executing and acknowledging the deed aforesaid, and continued so to reside until his death in 1836, then that the deed of emancipation so, as aforesaid, made, executed, acknowledged, and recorded in the County Court of Fairfax County, Virginia, does not entitle the petitioner to freedom under the statute of Virginia in such cases made and provided, entitled 'An act reducing into one the several acts concerning slaves, free negroes, and mulattoes,' passed 17 December, 1792."

"But the court refused to give the instruction as prayed, and to which refusal the defendants except, and pray that this their bill of exceptions may be signed, sealed, and enrolled, and which is accordingly done, this 18 May, 1842."

"W. CRANCH [L.S.]"

"JAMES S. MORSELL [L.S.]"

Page 43 U. S. 491

"2d Bill of Exceptions"

"Be it remembered that on the trial of this cause, the petitioner and defendant having offered the evidence contained in the first bill of exceptions and this being all the evidence adduced on the part of the petitioner and defendant aforesaid, the defendants, by their counsel, prayed the court to instruct the jury that the testimony aforesaid, although believed by the jury, is not sufficient in law to maintain the issue joined, and therefore the law is for the defendants."

"But the court refused to give the instruction so prayed, not being willing to certify that the evidence so stated as aforesaid is all the evidence adduced by the parties in the said cause, and because such an instruction would take the cause from the consideration of the jury without giving the petitioner the benefit of the presumption which the jury might draw from the facts so given in evidence. To which refusal the defendants except, and this their bill of exceptions is signed, sealed, and ordered to be enrolled this 18 May, 1842."

"W. CRANCH [L.S.]"

"JAMES S. MORSELL [L.S.]"

Upon the refusal of the court below to grant the prayers contained in the first and second bills of exceptions, the case came up before this Court.

Page 43 U. S. 494

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