[Manuscript Legal Document] James Crocker, et al, Justices of the Inferior Court for the Trial of Slaves and Free Persons of Color for Capital Offences. “Minutes…” , detailing arrest, indictment, trial with witness statements, and sentencing of the Negro Slave Dave, “property” of Francis Powel, for the Rape of Hester Ann Dobbs. Habersham County, Georgia, March 21-30, 1848. 8 x 12”, 10pp.
An extraordinarily detailed legal record of that most horrifying crime of the antebellum South - the rape of a white woman by a Black slave - who was tried, found guilty and punished by execution, in a secluded rural county northeast of Atlanta. A legal process that, under other circumstances, before and after the Civil War would have given way to lynching.
The rape of Hester Dobbs (according to Census records, the 14 or 15 year-old daughter of a farmer) allegedly occurred on March 18, “in the woods nearby a private pathway” The slave Dave, arrested three days later, first maintained his innocence, but after being jailed, allegedly “confessed” to his guilt. The trial took place on March 30; Dave, despite a reported jail-house confession, pleaded not guilty. Dobbs, the victim, testified that she saw Dave at his master’s home; when she left, he followed her into the woods, where, seeing he was naked, she ran from him. He followed, carrying a stick in one hand, though only striking her with his hand, he threw her to the ground. She “resisted his attempts for some time”, but he finally “ravished her by force.” Though she was “much frightened”, she “thinks she remembers all” - that Dave “entered her” and that “an Eruption of Matter took place.” He then “quit of his own accord and warned her that if she told anyone of his crime, “he would kill her.” The victim’s mother testified that her daughter returned to her their home “much injured and hurt…bruised all over” and “much frightened” but relating what had happened, said “If I don’t live, I want you to make” the slave “suffer for this act”. Two men who had not personally witnessed the rape merely testified they had seen evidence of a “considerable scuffle” (this despite a “heavy rain”) at the scene of the crime, a “dried pine limb” nearby which “looked as though it had been used” and “barefoot tracks” on the path which “looked like a negro track.” The jury of 12 men (three of whom had the same surname), found Dave guilty. He was sentenced to be executed a week later, “publickly hanged by the neck” on “a gallows to be erected for that purpose” near the village of Clarksville.