Manuscript Document Signed by William P. [Carter?], Commissioner. Interrogatory of Peyton L. Graves and his wife, Jane, in the case of Elva Jenkins [“by her next friend’] vs. Edwin Jenkins. 14pp. , 8 x 12”. Camden Court of Chancery, Alabama, Aug. 21, 1853.
The recorded testimony of Graves, a cotton plantation owner of Choctaw Indian ancestry, about an incident in which his friend and neighbor, 55 year-old Edwin Alonzo Jenkins, a medical doctor he had known for some 30 years, violently assaulted his wife for slighting his slave mistress.
Graves testified that he knew Jenkins to be “an indulgent husband and father,” even if he sometimes quarreled with his wife, eldest son and married daughter. But in early May, Graves was living at the Jenkins home, for reasons unstated, when he was called to witness an amazing scene: He found Elva Jenkins lying on the ground, being attacked by two large dogs, her clothes torn and her arm and abdomen bleeding from dog bites, while her husband, holding a hoe menacingly, stood over her shouting, “You God damn old bitch, I’ll kill you and go to hell at once.” She was taken into the house and was still crying when Jenkins came, still shouting threats: ‘You damn bitch, if you don’t hush, I will stop your breath.” Graves advised Elva to leave her husband – which she did – as “things had reached such a pass between them that I did not believe they could live together.” He believed Jenkins to be a “peaceable man”, but a heavy drinker and “when excited…very violent.” After his wife’s departure, Jenkins told Graves she could return, but “that he would be master of his own house.” Graves knew they had often quarreled – about money, about a boorish horse drovers Jenkins had entertained in their home, but, in particular, about his indulgent treatment of their slaves, the wife complaining he was “more favorable in his disposition towards his negros than toward his white family. “ But the “principal cause of difficulty” between the couple was Jenkins’ intimacy – not explicitly stated, but clearly implied in the document - with two of his female slaves, in particular, one named Becky. Elva was so jealous of Becky that when she once reproached Mrs. Graves for buying blackberries from Becky, who was given even more privileges than the other slaves, Jenkins had burst out, “If you don’t hush, I will cut your damned throat, if I go to hell for it.” After Elva’s departure, when Graves suggested that Jenkins might “dispose of” Becky to placate his wife, Jenkins replied, “he would sooner his wife should not return”. Perhaps she never did. They finally divorced two years later. The elder children supported their mother, who moved to Arkansas, where she died before the Civil War. Jenkins himself moved to Mexico at the end of the War, and eventually settled in Texas, where he died. Whether Becky and the other slaves accompanied him is unknown.