Friday, June 14, 2013

Friend of Friends Friday: Circuit Court Cases

Alexandria Gazette – October 17, 1837

CIRCUIT COURT. – The Circuit Court of the United States for this County terminated its October term on Saturday last, after a session of two weeks. The civil business of the docket was all gone through, and nothing is now to be done except entering up judgments on forthcoming bonds, for which purpose the Court will meet on the 31st of this month. There was less criminal matter before the Court than usual. Among the cases were the following:--

Dorcas Allen—slave--murder--acquitted on the ground of insanity. An account of this trial has before appeared.

Thomas Morris—free negro—Larceny, value six dollars—convicted and sentenced to Penitentiary of D.C. For two years.

Benjamin Morgan—white—Larceny, value seven dollars--(third conviction)--sentenced to Penitentiary two years.

James Davis—white—Larceny, value $3.50—convicted and sentenced to common jail of the county for one month and to pay a fine of one dollar.

Joseph Ferrall—free negro—This man was convicted at the last term of the Court of forging a certificate of freedom purporting to have been issued by the County Court of Prince William, with a certificate of the clerk under the Seal of the Court, to the signature of the presiding justice. The Seal (a pair of scales, with a tobacco leaf below them, and the words “Prince William County” in the margin) was tolerably well executed, but the name of the presiding judge, Mr. Ewell, was spelled “Uile.” The handwriting was stiff and labored, but perfectly distinct. Ferrall was convicted and sentenced to four years in the Penitentiary.

At the present term of the Court, the Grand Jury found another indictment against him for forging a similar instrument of the same purport. The seal was somewhat better executed than the last, but the name of Mr. Ewell was still spelled “Uile.” A writ of Habeas corpus ad subjiciendum directed to the Warden of the Penitentiary was prayed for by the District Attorney and awarded by the Court and by virtue of it, Ferrall was brought to the bar and tried for the offence charged upon him. The forgery was clearly proved by the testimony of a slave belonging to a gentleman of this place, to whom the prisoner had given the paper in question for the consideration of four dollars, to enable him to pass as a free man. The slave ran away and was apprehended during the recess of the Court. The previous conviction was in a case of similar circumstances, but the slave, belonging to the same gentleman, and who had also run away, was taken before the last term of the Court. Ferrall's handwriting was, moreover, in the present case proven by the oath of a gentleman residing in town who had seen him write and who swore that the writing of the forged instrument was in his belief the prisoner's.

Convicted and sentenced to the Penitentiary for three years, to commence running after the expiration of the four years for which he was sentenced at the last court. It may not be out of place to remark that the prisoner had been for many years acting as a preacher, and the keeper of a school in the town of Alexandria for the instruction of colored children.

The grand jury made a presentment of the Court House of this county as unsafe and unfit for the purposes intended for, and appointed a committee, under the approbation of the Court, to wait on the execution in relation to it.

The grand jury presented Joseph Johnson and other proprietors of the Steamboat Joseph Johnson, for not keeping in or attached to said boat one or more small boats for the purpose of saving the lives and property of passengers in said boat should any accident happen to her.

Among the civil cases decided, the only one of much general importance to the mercantile interest was “That a newspaper advertisement of prime bacon for sale, is not a warranty of the soundness of the article, where the purchaser had a full opportunity for inspecting and did actually inspect a part, and although he paid a full price for it.”

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