The following case is included in the Absalom and Elizabeth Autrey and Their Descendants with a Section on Thomas Norris. I have copies of these particular court documents, they are handwritten, and horribly written and the pages are filled with corrections and are barely legible. I personally want to thank Jeanne Murphy for transcribing all the documents included in the above book and making them available for us. She has done a tremendous job and thanks to her we are able to look at a scene from history.
I had the easy part, retyping and making them available to you.
COURT CASE MATILDA vs ABSALOM AND ELIZABETH AUTREY 5 OCTOBER 1851
To the Honorable the Judge of the Twelfth Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of Union State of Louisiana:
The petition of Matilda, a free woman of color, of your said Parish and State respectfully represents unto your Honor:
That she was born a slave in the State of Kentucky as the property of Richard Baker, Deceased , by his last will and testament executed and duly probated and freed all of his slaves, and their increase, which said emancipation of freedom was to take place on the death of Elizabeth Baker, the wife of said Richard Baker, Deceased.
Your petitioner respectfully represents that she is Matilda mentioned in said will and that she now has three children: Jack, a boy aged about seven years; Bright, a boy aged about seven years and Mary Alabama, aged about four years who are also, with your petitioner entitled to their freedom.
Your petitioner represents that the said Elizabeth Baker died in Perry County in the State of Alabama about the year 1835 and that Elizabeth Autry and her husband Absalom Autry then and there illegally took possession and have illegally held your petitioner and her said children in bondage as slaves ever since.
Your petitioner respectfully avers that she and her said children are and rightfully ought to be free, and she respectfully asks for the protection of the laws of the State in such cases made and provided.
Your petitioner respectfully represents that her services for the time that she has been illegally held in bondage as a slave have been worth the sum of one thousand dollars and that her services are worth one hundred dollars per year.
Your petitioner further represents that she fears that she will be forcibly and violently concealed or disposed of, or removed beyond the jurisdiction of this honorable Court before the termination of this suit and with the intention of defeating the ends of justice-and she therefore prays that she and her children may be sequestered.
Wherefore your petitioner prays that said Elizabeth Autry and her husband Absalom Autry of your said Parish and State may be duly cited to answer hereto and that contradictory with them a judgment may be rendered decreeing your petitioner and her said children to be free and for judgment against said Elizabeth and Absalom Autry in __________for one thousand dollars for her services as to the filing of the suit and for one hundred dollars per year until they are declared to be free and for general relief in the premises.
Richardson & Ladd
Attys. For Pet.
I am security for costs. W. S. Norris
State of Louisiana }
Parish of Union } William S. Norris being duly sworn deposes and say that he really fears and believes that Matilda and her children will be concealed or disposed of or moved beyond the jurisdiction of this Court before the termination of this suit in order to defeat the ends of justice-that his reasons for so thinking are that said Matilda has once been run from the State of Alabama in order to defeat the effect of the laws of that State, and that he believes that a sequestration necessary in order for them to prove justice.
W. S. Norris
Sworn to & Subscribed before me this 5th day of October A.D. 1851
George Copley, Judge 12th District
State of Louisiana }
Parish of Union } 12th District Court
To the Sheriff of the Parish of Union
Whereas proof has been made before the 12th District Court in and for the Parish of Union by W. S. Norris that Elizabeth and Absalom Autry held illegally in their possession a free woman of color and her three children to wit: a boy aged seven years; Bright, a boy aged seven years; and Mary Alabama, aged 4 years, and hath obtained an order from the said Court for a writ of sequestration against the above dissented negroes or free persons of color
Now you are hereby commanded to seize and take into your possession the said Matilda and her three children to wit: Jack, Bright, and Mary Alabama in whosesoever houses they may be found and the same safely to keep until further order of the said Court and that you make due return of this writ according to Law.
Given under my hand and the Seal of the said court this the 5th day of October A.D. 1851
C.T. Barton, Clk.
Matilda, a free woman of color }THE STATE OF LOUISIANA Vs }12th District Court
Elizabeth Autry & her husband Absalom Autrey }Parish of Union
Elizabeth Autry of the Parish of Union: You are hereby summoned to attend in the Clerks Office at the Town of Farmerville, and comply with the prayer of the annexed petition, or file your answer thereto, in writing, in the Office of the Clerk of the 12th Dist. Court, in and for the Parish of Union, on the first Monday in April next if Twelve days shall remain between the time of the service hereof and the said first Monday in April next if so many days shall not remain then in Twelve days after the service hereof.
Witness the honorable Geo. W. Copley, Judge of the said Court, this 5th day of October A.D. 1851
C.T. Barton, Clerk
Recd in office on the 6th day of November 1851 and on the same day of the same month and year I served a certified copy of Petition and of this citation to Elizabeth Autery personally at her residence in this Union Parish, La.
Nov. 6, 1851 B. Fuller, Deputy Sheriff
Note: An identical citation was served on Absalom Autry the same day as
above. He was not at home and it was received by Elizabeth. (J.M)
Matilda F.W.C. }
Vs } 12th Judicial District Court
Elizabeth & Absalom Autry } Parish of Union
The defendants in the above entitled cause before trying on the merits prays the court to set aside the Sequestration on the ground:
1st The affidavit was not made by the plaintiff and it does not appear she was absent.
2d The Sequestration was ordered Ex.oficio by the Judge not by the Court according to the law.
3d It was granted without Bond or security in entire disregard of the apparent rights of defendants.
4h There has been no legal execution of the writ although the sheriff has actually taken possession, he has not made inventory in presence of two witnesses as required by law.
Wherefore they pray the Sequestration be set aside and if not set aside that the amount of Bond may be fixed for the respondents to give.
If the objections are overruled for answer they deny all and singular the allegations in Plaintiffs petition contained. They have had continued undisturbed possession of the plaintiff as their slave ever since the year 1835. And from that time until dispossessed by the sheriff in this case, they have constantly exercised acts of ownership over her and she is really a slave and belongs to them without exhibiting further title. They plead the prescription of fifteen years possession as owner. Therefore they pray that plaintiffs demand be rejected at her costs and they be quieted in their title and restored to their rightful possession and for general relief as in duty bound.
Mcguire & Ray
NOTE: The Judge denied their request.
The State of Louisiana}
Parish of Union } Personally appeared before me, Matilda, who being duly sworn says that Celia Norris of the Parish of Union, an important witness on her behalf of the suit of this affiant vs A. Autry & wife in the District Court of said Parish, is old and infirm, and that she fears unless the testimony of the witness is taken, she might by death or infirmity be deprived of it. That she expects to prove by said witness her identity with the person called Matilda named in the will of Richard Baker Deceased, and the death of Elizabeth Baker, from to and subscribed before me this 16th day of December 1851 by making her mark, the said Matilda not knowing how to write.
Thomas Hook, J.P.
To the Honorable the Judge of the Twelfth Judicial District Court,
Parish of Union
The petition of Matilda, a free woman of color, respectfully represents that Celia Norris, an old and infirm Lady of the Parish of Union, is a material and important witness on her behalf in the case of Matilda vs. A. Autry & wife on the Docket of your said Court and she fears by death or infirmity she might be deprived of her testimony. She therefore prays that a commission may issue to some Judge or Justice of the Peace to take the answers of said witness to the above interrogatories, and that the defendants or their counsel may be duly notified of the time and place of taking said testimony.
R. W. Richardson
State of Louisiana }
Parish of Union } 12th District Court
Any Judge or Justice of the Peace duly commissioned and acting as such in and for the Parish of Union, State of Louisiana.
We do hereby commission and empower you to examine, after first being duly sworn by you, Celia Norris of said Parish and State, a witness on the part of Plaintiff in a certain suit now pending in the 12th District Court of the State of Louisiana, held in and for the Parish of Union, wherein Elizabeth Autry, and her husband Absalom Autry, both of the Parish of Union, are defendants and Matilda, a free woman of color is plaintiff, after giving due and legal notice of the time and place of said examination, and her answers thus taken to the annexed Interrogatories and reduce to writing Sealed and Subscribed to by the said witness do you certify and send sealed, directed to the Clerk of the said Court, enclose also this writ make due return thereof on or before the next term of this Court, to be held on the first Monday of _____next that the same may be used as evidence on the trial of said cause.
By order of the Court given under my hand
And the seal of the said Court this 17th day of
December A.D. 1851
C.T. Barton, Clk.
The State of La. Parish of Union
Personally appeared before me an acting Justice of Peace of the Parish of Union after being duly sworn Celia Norris Witness in part of plaintiff who deposed and witnesses on oath that she has answered to the (following) interrogatories according to the best of her knowledge and recollection sworn to and subscribed by me an acting Justice of the Peace of the Parish of Union on this the 12th day of January 1852.
Jesse F. Fuller, J.P. her
Celia x Norris Mark
Matilda f.w.c. }
Vs } 12th Judicial District Court
A. Autry & wife } Parish of Union
Interrogatories to be propounded to and answered by Celia Norris of the Parish of Union, a witness on the part of Plaintiff, old and infirm-
1st Interrogatory Are you acquainted with Matilda, a colored woman, lately in possession of A. Autry & wife?
2d Interrogatory How long have you known her? When, where & in whose possession was she when you first became acquainted with her?
3d Interrogatory How many children has the said Matilda, what are their names and ages and in whose possession did you last see them?
4th Interrogatory From whom and how did the defendants obtain possession of said Matilda and her children? How long have they had her in possession?
5th Interrogatory Were you personally acquainted with Elizabeth Baker What was her husbands name and where did he reside, did he ever own and possess Matilda?
6th Interrogatory When and where did Richard Baker die? When and where did Elizabeth Baker die?
7th Interrogatory Is this Matilda you have spoken of the same person you knew in the possession of Richard Baker and his wife Elizabeth Baker?
1st Interrogatory She was acquainted with her and how long did
2d Interrogatory not recollect. She was in possession of my sister.
3d Interrogatory Elizabeth Baker in Kentucky. Three Bright, Jack & Mary
Witness says ages of children not known. In Absalom & Elizabeth Autrey
4th Interrogatory - They were left to them by Elizabeth Baker, her sister. Do not know.
5th Interrogatory I am. Richard Baker in Kentucky. I do not know whether or not. I do not know whether Richard Baker ever owned the said Matilda or not. I never saw the Matilda until she was given.
6th Interrogatory Richard Baker died. I do not know. Elizabeth Baker died in Alabama, Perry County.
7th Interrogatory I never knew the said Matilda in
possession of Richard Baker. She is the same Matilda that was in possession of my sister,
VS UNION PARISH
A. AUTRY & WIFE NOVEMBER 1852
Listing Officers by Plaintiff
Celia Norris sworn says she was well acquainted with Mrs. Elizabeth Baker she was the sister of the witness, she was wife of Richard Baker. He resided in Kentucky and it is generally understood in the family that he died in Kentucky.
After his death, his wife removed to Alabama-she brought with her from Kentucky to Alabama a negro woman called Matilda, the slave here in dispute, the Plaintiff in this suit. Mrs. Baker came to the house of defendant Autry in Alabama and died there. Witness is residing in the family of defendant Autry in the Parish of Union resided in Alabama within a half mile of defendant Autry. Mr. Autry has had one child born in this Parish since he removed from Alabama and that child is about 4 years old.
Plaintiff Matilda has three children: Jack and Bright were born after the death of Mrs. Baker and were born in Alabama. The girl child is named Mary Alabama-born after the twin boys named Jack and Bright and was also born in Alabama. does not recollect what other persons were also present at the Death of Mrs. Baker the slave Matilda was at Mr. Autrys house in Alabama at the time of Mrs. Bakers Death. Mrs. Baker at the time of her death, had all the abilities of a physician and nurse required. Mr. And Mrs. Autry attended to Mrs. Baker along with the witness, at the time of Mrs. Bakers death Does not know that all of Mr. Autrys family started from Alabama to this state at the same time. Witness never saw Matilda in Alabama after Mr. Autry removed from there.
After Mr. Autry left the state of Alabama, witness saw Mrs. Autry there Mrs. Autry started to this state in company with witness, son W.S. Norris and family knows that Mr. Autry was not in that company. Witness heard Mrs. Baker say on her death bed that she gave Matilda to Mrs. Autry to keep until she was of age and then Mr. Autry was to take her back to Kentucky if she wished to go and if she did not wish to go, Mrs. Autry was to take care of her.
Cross examined by defendant.
Says Mrs. Baker lived about two years in Alabama after she came from Kentucky before she died.
Witness moved to Alabama from Kentucky about the year 1818.
Plaintiff, Mrs. Harriet Norris being sworn says she removed to this Parish from Alabama, that she lived in Alabama, a mile from the Defendant knows that Mrs. Baker died at Autrys house knows that Mrs. Baker had in her possession at that time of Death, a girl named Matilda who is the Plaintiff in this suit Witness was present at the Death of Mrs. Baker. Mrs. Baker told Mr. Autry on her Death Bed to take the girl, Matilda and keep her until she was 18 years of age and then take her back to Kentucky to be free. Mr. Autry kept the girl and ran her off to this country and did not do as Mrs. Baker requested. Mr. Autry said Matilda should not have her freedom He intended to make a slave of her.
Mr. Autrys brother-in-law tried to get holt of the negroes. He had the Sheriff of Perry County with him the candles were blown out and at that time Autry left with the negroes. NOTE: This paragraph was marked through.
Witness has often heard Autry say that Matilda was free and must go to be free with the rest of the negroes. Matilda seems to be about 25 years of age. Mrs. Baker told Autry that keeping the girl till she was 18 would pay him for his trouble in taking her to Kentucky.
Cross examined by defendant.
Witness says she was present at Mr. Autrys house and helped to wait on Mrs. Baker several days next preceding her Death.
The conversation relative to Matildas destination took place between Mr. Autry and Mrs. Baker a day or two before her Death Mrs. Celia Norris was at Autrys house a day or two prior to and at the time of Mrs. Bakers death but not so constantly as witness.
Recalled by Plaintiff.
Mrs. Autry came to this country with witness and her husband and they were met by Autry at Vicksburg going back to meet his family. He said he had left the negroes in this Parish of Union with Thomas Norris.
Before Autry left Alabama, Autry told witness he had given Matilda a severe whipping because she claimed her freedom and he whipped it out of her. Witness asked Autry if he ever allowed to let Matilda have her freedom and he said he intended to make her a slave for him.
Thinks Mrs. Baker died about the year 1834 or 1835 Since Autry had Matilda in his possession she worked in the field most of the time part of the time abut the house night and morning and is a good hand.
Witness says Autry talked of moving with witness and others prior to his leaving with the negroes which recalled by plaintiff heard Autry say that he intended to run off with the negroes. He expected them to be taken from him. She knows he guarded them with his gun a month before he ran them off.
Autry was afraid Steven Letcher, his brother-in-law, would get possession of the negroes that said Steven Letcher is the husband of Cloe Letcher, sister of Autrys wife.
Plaintiff offers testimony of W. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher taken by commissary. Marked "A" admitted.
Plaintiff offers copy of the will and probate thereof of Richard Baker, decd of Hopkins County, Kentucky. Admitted and marked "B".
D.M . Wright sworn for Plaintiff says that he is acquainted with the Plaintiff, Matilda she works in the field at Autrys house she is an average hand. Her services are worth one hundred dollars per annum and probably more She is 30 or 35 years old judging from her appearance.
Thinks a woman with 3 children could hardly earn $100. Per annum it would depend on the ages of the children a breeding woman having children could not render as valuable as a woman who had no children. Witness has only known Plaintiff for the last five or six years.
Recalled by Plantiff.
Says a healthy woman taken at 18 years of age, for the term of 18 years, having 3 or 4 children in the mean time, would be worth $100 per annum for the 18 years Thinks Plaintiffs children have earned their board and clothing for the last 2 or 3 years.
Says he does not know of a woman with 3 children having hired for $100, per annum Has known woman without children to hire for $100, per annum. Mentions for less. Says that from 1839 to 1846 negroes hired for much less than at this time. Thinks in the estimate of $100, per annum for the hire of a negro, he considers that the person hiring should pay taxes and all expenses including auction Bills.
Thomas H. Wright sworn for Plaintiff says he is well acquainted with Matilda, Plaintiff, particularly since she has been in Louisiana - She is a good field hand for the last 2 or 3 years and two of Plaintiffs children have earned their support. Thinks the services of Matilda and her children since they have been in LA. Worth $50 per annum.
William S. Norris sworn for Plaintiff says that he has known Matilda since about 1833 she was then about 13 or 14 years old Mrs. Baker died about 1835.
Thinks there was some talk among the heirs of Mrs. Baker of making partition of the value of Matilda among the heirs. There then was some dissatisfaction with some of the heirs of Mrs. Baker because Autry would not agree to divide the value of Matilda among them. Witness thinks there was some chat in the Family of his about dividing the negroes. Legal proceedings which were taken or were about to be taken to see whether Matilda was entitled to her Freedom or whether to be claimed among the heirs of Mrs. Baker.
This account "was" a short time prior to Mr. Autry running the negroes from Alabama. Thinks that prior to his leaving Alabama with the negroes Further thinks some of Autrys things had been hauled to a place of shipment before he left Alabama. Thinks some of witness things were packed up with Mr. Autrys. Witness spoke to an attorney and asked him to bring this suit for Matilda. Witness is husband of Harriet Norris and brother of Mrs. Autry. Witness told the Plaintiffs counsel at this time of the court that his fee would be paid. Thinks he spoke to Mr. Essiar to assist in the case.
Witness and Autry are unfriendly and it has grown out of the proceedings in this suit. Witness testimony closed.
Thomas Norris sworn for Defendant says he is well acquainted with the Plaintiff when she was first brought from Alabama by Autry. She was brought to his brothers house for a few days and then to the house of witness where she remained 2 or 3 weeks. Plaintiff told witness that Autry ran her off from Alabama because one Letcher and an officer were going to take her and auction for sale and divide. The _______
_________ __________ that Letcher did not get her to be sold out of Autrys hands was anxious to get away from Alabama. While Matilda was at witness house, she told witness that she had come to Louisiana with Autry. Neither Autry or his Family were at witness house at that time. The situation of Matilda was voluntarily made. Witness is a brother of Mrs. Autry and a son of Celia Norris.
Matilda was placed under the charge of witness and his brother by Autry and waited on his Family while at his house treated Matilda while there as one of his own slaves.
M. Neighbors sworn for Defendant. Says he is acquainted with the Plaintiff in this suit. He knew her in Alabama was residing in the neighborhood in Alabama from which Plaintiff was brought to La. Witness was at Autrys house at the time he left Alabama with Matilda and her 3 children. News came to Autry that Letcher and an officer, the Deputy Sheriff were coming to take the negro and she told Autry she preferred going with him to Louisiana than going into the hands of Letcher and officers. Autry asked her which she preferred doing and she stated as above that she preferred going to Louisiana.
Autrey was preparing to leave for Louisiana and witness was assisting Autry for a week or few weeks before he left and was often gone all night did not see or hear of Autry guarding the negroes for a week or two or any time before he left Alabama. Witness is a Son-in-law of the Autry, the Defendant in this suit.
Joseph W. Wiley, a son-in-law of Autry, brought the news that the Sheriff was coming with Letcher this was about dark Witness and others heard Mr. Wiley make the above statement to Mr. Autry, Autry started with the negroes a few minutes after he received the news from Wiley about the Sheriff coming. Mr. Autry took his gun when he started with the negroes. Witness did not go with Autry and the negroes from the house. He met with Autry and the negroes in about two hours and a half. It is about 3 miles from the house of Autry to the line which divides Perry and Dallas Counties Alabama, which direction witness guesses Mr. Autry went. It was in Dallas County when witness met Autry after leaving his house met Autry in the road walking with the negroes. After witness net Autry Autry and the witness rode on horseback. Witness and another person whose woman he cannot recollect rode to and let two horses to Autry and his negroes. Witness started with the horses from Mr. Autrys house. One of Mr. Autrys sons did not go with the witness and the horses. It was Mr. Wiley who went with the witness and the horses. Thinks W.W. Walker was at the house of Autry when he left with the negroes and did not go with witness and the horses.
Witness accompanied Mr. Autry and the negroes 16 miles and returned with the horses. Witness and Wiley are married to daughters of Defendant Autrey.
When Matilda told Autry she preferred going with him to Louisiana, it was in reply to Mr. Autry asking her whether she preferred going to Louisiana or going into the hands of the Sheriff and be sold and divided.
Thomas N. Hand sworn for Defendant. Says that he was Sheriff of the Parish at the time the suit of Extradition in this case was served and kept the negroes Matilda and children in his possession 154 days and delivered them to his successor in office who he thinks still has in his possession living in town. While Matilda was at the house of Defendant when she lived with one of his negro men as a wife and seemed to live happily since she left his house he knows nothing of her character.
Never knew of her committing and robbing or of her having committed any criminal misdemeanor nor having run away.
D. B. Trousdale, sworn for Defendant. Says he received Matilda and children from the hand and as Sheriff still has her in possession about his house.
Matilda is an honest, dutiful servant so far as has come to the knowledge of witness no charge of dishonesty was ever made against her.
Defendant closes his evidence.
Plaintiff offers as rebutting evidence. Thomas H. Wright recalled, who states that he has known the Plaintiff about six years and has lived in a mile of her - only knows her as a good and faithful servant Knows nothing against her good character has not seen anything of Plaintiff for near two years since the institution of this suit. Has heard of no charge against her good character for this court to _____ ________.
I certify the foregoing evidence contained on the 13 pages to be all the
evidence advanced in the trial of this case.
R. H. Richards
Judge 12th Judicial Dist.
Matilda f.w.c. }
Vs } 12th District Court of Union
Be it remembered that on the trial of this Court defendants offered to prove by Thomas Norris and Albert M. Neighbors and others declaration made by plaintiff of her willingness to remove to the State of Louisiana from Alabama with defendant and of his declarations of her satisfaction in being brought to this state by the defendant and kept in his family to which plaintiff objected on the ground that the statements made by a statu libro or a free person of color made to them who at the time held them in bondage, or to them who had them in possession as slaves, could not be given in evidence against them, which objections were overruled by the Court, and the witnesses permitted to testify as shown by their evidence to which opinion of the Court.
Plaintiff by her counsel object.
Signed this 16th November 1853
R. W. Richardson
Judge 12th Dist.
STATE OF KENTUCKY
Be it remembered that at a County Court held for the County aforesaid at the courthouse in the town of Madisonville on Monday the 8th day of May 1826. The following entry among others was made in the minutes of the proceedings of said Court to wit "A writing purporting to be the last will and Testament of Richard Baker decd, produced in Court and proven by the oaths of Elijah Grace and Sam Wooden subscribing witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded. And on the motion of William Tear the Executor named in said will, who made oath and certificate is granted his for obtaining probate in due form he giving secy. Whereupon said Tear with William Gordon and John B. Safforn, his Secys Exed. Bind in the penalty of $10,000 cend. As the law directs Saml Downey, Arthur Babbs, Sam Merton and Barnabas Silk or any 3 apr.
The last will and Testament of Richard Baker, decd ordered to be recorded in the foregoing entry is in the words and figures following to wit:
I, Richard baker of Hopkins County and State of Kentucky, do make my last will and Testament as follows. Viz, I give and bequeath to my beloved wife during her natural life all my estate both real and personal of every kind and description.
At the death of my said wife, it is my will and I hereby positively direct that all my slaves namely Tom, Lucy, Milly, Jack, Affa, Malinda, Matilda, Kitty, Ann and Selma and the future increase of the said Lucy, Milly, Affa, Malinda, Matilda, Kitty, Ann and Sela are to be free to all intents and purposes in the same manner as if they were free born.
At the death of my said wife, I give and bequeath to my nephew, James Baker son of Elijah Baker, all my landed estate with its appurtenances to him and his heirs or assigns forever, also one bed and furniture.
At the death of my said wife, I give and bequeath to my nephew, Richard Baker son of James Baker or his heirs all my estate not herein other wise specially disposed of after the payment of all my just debts.
I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint William Tear Executor of this my last will and Testament.
In Testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal this 26th day of December 1825.
Richard x Baker SEAL
Signed, Sealed, Published
& declared in presence of
Hopkins County } May County Court 1826
The foregoing Instrument of writing was exhibited into Court and proven to be the last will and Testament of Richard Baker decd by the oath of Sam Woodsen and Elijah Grace subscribing witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded.
Att. Sam Woodsen cc
I, Orlean Bishop, clerk of the County Court for the County of Hopkins
aforesaid, do hereby certify that the foregoing contains a full and complete transcript of
the entry as record of said Court as to the proof of the last will and Testament of
Richard Baker decd and ordering the same to be recorded and also of the said last
will and Testament and the clerks certificate thereon as the same now remains of
record in my office. In Testimony
State of Louisiana } 12th District Court
Parish of Union } To William W. Morrow or James Nelson
Perry County, Alabama } Greeting
Know that trusting to your fidelity and provident circumspection by authority empowered and commissioned to examine under oath after being duly and legally sworn by you W.W. Walker and Mrs. Cloe A. Letcher of Perry County, Alabama, witnesses on the Part of Plaintiff in a certain controversy now pending in the Twelfth Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of Union, State of Louisiana. Wherein Matilda, free woman of color, is Plaintiff and Absalom Autry and wife is defendants and their answers to be annexed. Interrogations thus taken and reduced to writing, sworn to, and subscribed by said witnesses, do you certify and send sealed to the Clerk of said Court on or before the first Monday in April next (1853) in order that the same may be read in evidence in the trial of the above entitled cause, and send also this writ. By order of the Court Witness the honorable R. W. Richardson, judge of the 12th Judicial District court in and for the Parish of Union, Louisiana this the 23rd day of November A.D. 1852.
C.T. Barton, Clk.
No. 460 vs 12th Judicial District
Elizabeth & Absalom Autry Court, Parish of Union
Interrogatories to be propounded to and answered by W. W. Walker and Mrs. Cloe A. Letcher of Perry County, Alabama, to be taken before William W. Morrow or James nelson of Perry County and read as evidence in the trial of this cause
1st Interrogatory How are you acquainted with Elizabeth Baker of Perry County, Alabama?
2d Interrogatory When & where did she die? & with whom was she living?
3d - Interrogatory - Had Elizabeth Baker any slaves in possession at the time of her death? What were their ages, sex, name and color & into whose possession did they go at her death?
4th - Were you well acquainted with Elizabeth & Absalom Autry, the defendants? In Perry County, how far did you live from them?
5th - Did you ever hear Elizabeth or Absalom say that Matilda Till as she was called, was to be free, or was free at the death of Elizabeth Baker or that Elizabeth Baker had directed them or either of them to see that she had her freedom after Mrs. Bakers death?
6th - State what you have heard Elizabeth or Absalom Autry say on this subject.
7th - Do you or not know that Elizabeth Baker felt & expressed an earnest desire that Matilda should have her freedom at her (Mrs. Bakers) death?
8th - Do you or not know that Absalom Autry ran off the negro woman Matilda from Alabama between dark and daylight to avoid some legal proceedings that were commenced to obtain her freedom?
9th - Please state the time and all the circumstances attending his running off Matilda.
H. B. Esseih Atty.
The defendants in the above entitled case objects to answers sought to be obtained to 5th,6th, and 7th interrogatories tending to prove the Will of Elizabeth Baker by parody. He objects to Wm. Morrow taking the evidence. He is unfriendly to kin. And that the witnesses answer the following Interrogatories. Viz: 1st Are you interested in the result of this case? 2d. Are you related in any manner to either of the parties or Elizabeth Baker? If yes, state fully in what manner. 3d. State if you answer the 8th question In brief what was the nature of the proceedings? And whether you were or not interested in proceedings or party thereto and what was the interest you claimed and alleged therein? 4th. Have you or not claimed these slaves by heirship and whether you did not have them or attempt to have them inventoried and partitioned among the heirs of Elizabeth Baker, decd. 5th. Did you or not become unfriendly to defendants because they defeated your claims upon these slaves?
McGuire & Ray, Atty.
The State of Alabama }
Perry County } By virtue of the annexed commission to me directed from C. T. Barton, Clerk of the 12th Judicial District Court of Union Parish, Louisiana, I have _________
And caused Wm. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher to come before me at public on the 4th day of January 1853 for the purpose of taking their depositions on behalf of Matilda free woman of color, Plaintiff to be as evidence in a certain suit now pending in the above Court wherein Matilda free woman of color is Plaintiff and Elizabeth and Absalom Autry are defendants and the said Wm. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher being fully duly sworn according to law and charged to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the premises - _____ deposes and says
First Interrogatory: Were you acquainted with Elizabeth Baker of Perry County, Alabama? Wm. Walker answers the above Interrogatory I have seen her twice but was not personally acquainted with her. Cloe A. Letcher answers the above Interrogatory I was acquainted with Elizabeth Baker about three years.
2nd Interrogatory: When and where did she die and with whom was she living? Wm. W. Walker answers the 2nd Interrogatory I do no know the time she died but I was told by Mr. Absalom Autry that she died at his house and I always understood that she lived with the said Autery. Absalom Auterys between fifteen and twenty years ago and she was living with Absalom Autery at the time of her death.
3rd Interrogatory: Had Elizabeth Baker any slaves in possession at the time of her death? What were their ages, sex, name and color and into whose possession did they go at her death? Wm. W. Walker answers the 3rd Interrogatory I have heard A. Autry say that she had one girl named Till. I would judge to be between fourteen and eighteen years old of a yellowish color. She went into A. Auterys possession at the said Elizabeth Bakers death.
Cloe A. Letcher answers 3rd. Interrogatory She had one girl named Till, I suppose was between fourteen and eighteen years old when Elizabeth Baker died. She was of yellowish color and she went into the possession of the said Absalom Autery at the death of the said Elizabeth Baker.
4th Interrogatory: Were you well acquainted with Elizabeth Baker and Absalom Autery defendants, in Perry County? How far did you live from them? Wm W. Walker answers 4th Interrogatory I was well acquainted with the said Elizabeth and Absalom Autery and I lived about three miles from them. Cloe A. Letcher answers Interrogatory I was well acquainted with the said Elizabeth and A. Autrey and I lived about three quarters of a mile from them.
5th Interrogatory: Did you ever hear Elizabeth or Absalom Autery say that Matilda or Till as she was called was to be free or was free at the death of Elizabeth Baker or that Elizabeth Baker ad directed them or either of them to see that she had her freedom after her (Mrs. Bakers) death? Wm. W. Walker answers 5th Interrogatory I have, Cloe A. Letcher answers 5th Interrogatory I have.
6th Interrogatory: State what you have heard Elizabeth or Absalom Autery say on the subject. Wm. W. Walker answers the 6th Interrogatory Absalom Autery told me that Elizabeth Baker while on her death bed requested him to keep Till until she was of age and for him to take her back to Kentucky himself and not to suffer any other person to take her lest she should miss her freedom and remarked also that he would die before any man should take Till from him. Cloe A. Letcher answer to the 6th Interrogatory I have heard both Elizabeth and Absalom Autery say that Till was to be free after Mrs. Bakers death when she Till would come to be of age that Absalom Autery was to take her back to Kentucky himself.
7th Interrogatory: Do you or not know that Elizabeth Baker felt and expressed an earnest desire that Matilda should have her freedom at her Mrs. Bakers death? Wm. W. Walkers answer to 7th Interrogatory I do not know that Mrs. Baker requested Mr. Autery to take the said Till back to Kentucky from any thing I ever heard Mrs. Baker say for I never heard her speak on the subject. All I know concerning her request is what Mr. Autery told me to which I have answered was answered in the 5th and 6th Interrogatory. Cloe A. Letchers answer to the 7th Interrogatory I do know that she did for I have seen her sit and cry after having been told by others that Absalom Autery would not take her back that she might have her freedom.
8th Interrogatory: Do you or not know that Absalom Autery ran off the negro woman Matilda from Alabama between dark and daylight to avoid some legal proceedings that were commenced to obtain her freedom? Wm. W. Walkers answer to the 8th Interrogatory I do know that he did. Cloe A. Letchers answer to the 8th Interrogatory I do know that he did.
9th Interrogatory: Please note the time and all the circumstances attending his running off Matilda. Wm. W. Walkers answer to 9th Interrogatory I was at the said Auterys making a _____for W. S. Norris and had been at the said Auterys for 2 days. And the day before the said Autery left at night. He started one of his son-in-laws to Marion. I do not know at the time the son-in-law starts to Marion what he was going for until he returned. And when he returned he rode up in full speed to the kitchen where the said Autery and wife and myself and others were eating supper and told A. Autery that the sheriff and Letcher was coming the said Autery sprang from the table and the candle was blown out instantly and I have not seen A. Autery not Till since. Cloe A. Letchers answer to 9th Interrogatory I do not know the time. All that I know about the circumstances is that my husband was going to prevent his moving Till of either by giving her freedom or having her and her children divided amongst the heirs whichever the law would do and he, Mr. Autery and Till and her children left before the process could be served on them and I have not seen them since.
1st. Interrogatory: Are you interested in the result of this case? Wm. W. Walkers answer to 1st interrogatory I am not interested. Cloe A. Letcher answers to 1st Interrogatory I am not interested.
2d Interrogatory: Are you related in any manner to either of the parties or to Elizabeth Baker? If yes, state fully in what manner. Wm. W. Walkers answer to 2nd Interrogatory I am. Mrs. Baker was my wifes mothers sister and my wife is Mrs. E. Auterys sister. Cloe A. Letchers answer to 2nd Interrogatory I am. Mrs. Baker was my mothers sister and Mrs. E. Autery is my sister.
3d Interrogatory: State if you answer the 8th Interrogatory in _________what was the nature of the proceedings and whether you were or not Interested in those proceedings or party thereto and what was the interest you claimed and alleged therein. Wm. W. Walkers answer to 3rd Interrogatory I do not know what the proceedings were. I was not interested in the proceedings neither was I a party thereto. Cloe A. Letchers answer to 3rd Interrogatory I do not know the nature of the proceedings. My husband was a party to them.
4th Interrogatory: Have you or not claimed these slaves by heirship and whether you did not have them or attempt to have them inventoried and partitioned among the heirs of Elizabeth Baker, decd? Wm. W. Walkers answer to 4th interrogatory I have not claimed the slaves by heirship nor attempted to have them inventoried or divided amongst the heirs of the said Mrs. Baker decd. Cloe A. Letchers answer to 4th Interrogatory I have not claimed those slaves by heirship nor attempted to have them inventoried nor divided amongst the heirs of Elizabeth Baker, decd.
5th Interrogatory: Did you or not become unfriendly to defendants because they defeated your pretensions upon those slaves? Wm. W. Walkers answer to 5th Interrogatory I did not for I had no such pretentions as indicated in the above Interrogatory moreover I am yet friendly to the defendants. Cloe A. Letchers answer to 5th Interrogatory I did not become unfriendly to the defendants for any such cause.
Cloe A. + Letcher
I, James Nelson, certify that the above depositions of Wm. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher was taken at the time and place mentioned in the caption after the deponents had been sworn that the said depositions was read to them and heard throughout and by them fully approved and signed and that the said depositions was not out of my possession until the same was sealed up and directed to the said C. T. Barton, Clerk of the 12th Judicial District Court of Union Parish, Louisiana.
Given under my hand and seal this the fourth day of January 1853.
James Nelson SEAL
Elizabeth & Absalom Autry
By reason of the Law and the evidence in this case being in favor of the Plaintiff, Matilda, a free woman of color and against the defendant Absalom Autry. It is ordered adjudged and decreed that the said Matilda and her three children Names Jack, Bright and Mary Alabama are free persons and it is further ordered adjudged and decreed that she the said Matilda, Plaintiff, to recover of the defendant Absalom Autry the sum of one thousand dollars as prayed for in her petition and all costs of this to be Taxed. And it is further ordered that the Sheriff of the Parish of Union release the said Matilda and her three children from custody.
Read and signed in open Court this 16th day of November A. D. 1853.
R. W. Richardson
Judge 12th District
A true copy of the original Judicial on file in my office. In faith whereof I have hereunto signed my name and affixed the seal of said Court on this the 29th November 1853.
C. T. Barton, Clk.
I am security for costs this 14 of Nov. 1853.
John G. Tight (?)
Vs 12th District Court
Autry & wife Parish of Union
State of Louisiana
Be it remembered that on the trial of this case that plaintiff by her counsel offered to prove by Celia Norris and Harriet Norris, witnesses sworn in this case, the declarations of Elizabeth Baker, now decd to which defendant by his counsel objected on the grounds that the declarations of Elizabeth Baker in regard to any fact of issue in this case was hearsay and was admissible.
Plaintiff by her counsel on the trial of this case offered in evidence the testimony of W. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher taken under to that fact of which you oppress the declarations of Elizabeth Baker. Defendant by his counsel objected on the same grounds as stated above as both witnesses. And on the further grounds as witnessed by defendants wrote (the) interrogatories before the testimony was taken as will appear by reference unto interrogatory and objections herein written. All of which objections the Court over ruled and admitted the evidence as it is to be found in the note of exception to which ruling of the Court. (The) Defendants objected and tender this Bill of exception which is objections to the reading of the annexed interrogatories of W. W. Walker and Cloe A. Letcher were made when the answers to the 7th Interrogatory and 6th Interrogatories had not been acted on by the Court and the objection as to them came in time.
Signed Nov. 16th 1853
Judge 12th Dist.
Matilda f.w.c. }
Vs } State of Louisiana
A. Autry & Wife } Parish of Union
12th District Court
Know all men by these presents that we A. Autry as principal and Silas M. Fuller and John B. L. Mitchell, his security are held and firmly bound unto Matilda f.w.c. in the sum of one hundred dollars to the true and faithful payment thereof we bind ourselves, our heirs and assigns on this the 16th day of January 1854. The condition of the above obligation is such that Whereas the said A. Autry has obtained an order from the 12th District Court in and for Union Parish, State of Louisiana for an absolution appeal from a certain final judgment ordered in said Court on the 16th day of November A. D. 1853 against him in the case wherein the said Matilda f.w. of c. Is Plaintiff and the said A. Autry is defendant, which appeal is made returnable to the Supreme Court at Monroe on the first Monday of October 1854 Now therefore if the said A. Autry shall appear in the said Supreme Court in person or by counsel and shall prosecute said appeal with success or shall pay or cause to be paid all costs of said appeal in said appellate Court, then this obligation to be null and void, or else to be and remain in full force and effect signed and acknowledged, on the day and date above written.
C. T. Barton Silas M. Fuller
John B. L. Mitchell
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA AT MONROE
Special Term 1855
Monroe, Saturday July 28th 1855
Present Their Honors
C. Noorkies A. M. Buckanan H. M. Shafford J. N. Lea
Autry & husband Parish of Union
In this cause the Court this day delivered this opinion in writing in the words and figures following
The plaintiff alleges that she is a free woman of color, illegally held in servitude by the defendants.
The answer by a general denial and an averment that the plaintiff is really a slave belonging to them, and without exhibiting any further title plead the prescription of fifteen years possession as owners.
The sole issue then is libera vel non. This is not an attempt to procure the manumission of a person acknowledged to be still a slave, and the laws of Louisiana regulating that subject are therefore to the case.
The plea of usucation on the prescription by which property is required cannot avail the defendants.
In Dalpline vs Dwize Q I S 65, it was held that that prescription was not a good defense to a claim for freedom. It is true that the decision appears to have been (based) upon the following text of the Third Pastida (Tis 29 law 24); If a man be free no matter how long he may be held by another as a slave; his state or condition cannot thereby be changed; nor can he be reduced to slavery, in any manner whatever, on account of the time he may have been held in servitude.
It is true also that this Spanish laws were repealed by the 2th Section of the act of 25th Mary 1828. Handy vs Parkison 10 L.R.99.
But the text above cited is enunciative of a principle of law which may exist without positive legislation.
The same principle is also deducible from the text of our civil code A possession by violence not being legal does not confer the right of prescribing. That right only commences when the violence has ceased. CC 3457. The relation of master and slave while it subsists in fact, implies power on one side and subjection on the other. It is besides, proved in this case that violence was employed by the defendants to keep the plaintiff quiet in her apparent condition.
If the defendants should urge that their possession had a lawful and peaceable commencement by reason of the dying request of the former mistress of plaintiff. That they would take charge of her until she was eighteen years of age, and then take her back to Kentucky to be free, they are met by Article 3480 of the Code, which declares that "one cannot prescribe against his own title, in this sense, that he cannot change by his own act, the nature and the origin of his possession." Under the evidence, the defendants cannot have possessed as owners, unless they possessed by violence, and in either case they have not acquired a title sufficient to silence the plaintiffs claim to freedom by prescription of fifteen years.
On the merits we concur with the District Judge, in the opinion that the plaintiff was de jure free, when she was brought into this state by the defendants as a slave.
The slave belonged originally to Richard Baker of Kentucky. By his last will admitted to probate in that state in 1826, he bequeathed her to his wife, Elizabeth Baker for her natural life, and at her death to be free to all intentions and purposes "as if she were free born."
No attempt was made by the defendants to show that there was anything illegal in the bequest, under the laws of Kentucky.
On the other hand the decision quoted from the judicial reports of that state, would seem to indicate that the disposition was valid.
Shortly after the death of her husband, Mrs. Baker removed from Kentucky to Alabama with Matilda, who was then a statu libera by the effect of the will probated in the former state. The plaintiff went to Alabama with a vested right to her freedom upon the death of Mrs. Baker, who had only a life estate in her. We have no reason to doubt the proposition that the Courts of Alabama would have recognized the vested rights of the plaintiff. No prohititory statues of that state have been offered in evidence derogating from power of a matter to manumits his slave, or restricting the rights of a statu-liber, introduced from another state. The conduct of the defendants in hurrying away the plaintiff from Alabama immediately after she became free by the death of Mrs. Baker in 1835 and detaining her for as many years in Louisiana in violation of the trust imposed upon them by Mrs. Baker who told them to carry her back to Kentucky to be free, indicated a desire on the part of the defendants to avoid the tribunals of those states. Considering that the defendants pretend to no title whatever, but a possession based upon a suspicious circumstances, we think the burden was on them to show that there existed some legal obstacle to the recognition of the plaintiffs freedom. This they have failed to do.
The declaration of Mrs. Baker made on her death bed in presence of Autry were admissible as they went to show the origin and nature of the possession upon which the plea of prescription is based and also to show the bad faith of the defendants.
We do not perceive that the will certified by the Clerk of the Hopkins County Court in Kentucky was a copy of a copy. The record excepted to was we think admissible.
There was error in allowing the plaintiff the sum of $l,000, for services as claimed in the petition.
The only judgment proper to be rendered upon this branch of the case was one, not for damages but for "wages" and, under the pleadings and evidence the prescription of one year of one year seems to apply to this money demand. C. C. 3499.
This would reduce the sum to $100.00, it is, therefore ordered that the judgment of the District Court be so amended as to reduce the sum therein awarded to the plaintiff for her services to the defendants from one thousand dollars to one hundred dollars, and that, this amended, the said judgment be affirmed the costs of this appeal to be paid by the plaintiff and appealer.
Clerks Office Supreme Court of Louisiana, Monroe August 17, 1855
I certify the foregoing to be a true copy.
H. M. Bry, Clerk