Monday, November 3, 2008

Our Right to Vote

Is everyone excited about the election this year? It has been an exciting one; people seem to be passionate about their choice. One thing we need to remember is how wonderful it is that we do get to vote. If we go back in time, our grandmothers didn't get to vote, and some of our grandfathers, even though they could fight in the wars, didn't get to vote. Court cases show that people known as Melungeons were taken to court for voting. So no matter what your choice is this year--go vote!

Jack Goins spoke on this subject, here are some snippets:

State vs Lewis Minor- Sept 28, 1847. This request was asking for a continuance because his council , John Netherland, could not be present, all seven cases were delayed until January 1848. Also, John Netherland's daughter Eliza Haskell wrote that her father won their freedom.

These cases all resulted from a national election held in all the districts of Hawkins County to elect Representatives, Senators, Congressmen and Governor of the state. I have found 10 who were charged for illegal voting at this time . two were found guilty and one paid a fine and cost. The case was finally heard by a Jury on Saturday Jan 29, 1848 The charge by the state was “ being free persons of color” who were not allowed to vote, or to set on a jury against a white man. More about this later.

In 1834 Tennessee added another law to the territorial act of 1794, which they had adopted, chapter one section 32 declared that all Negroes, Indians, mulattoes and all persons of mixed blood, descending from Negro or Indian ancestors to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor from each generation may have been a white person, whether bond or free should be held and deemed to be incapable in law to be a witness in any case whatever, except against each other, these illegal voting trials and other cases show that this law was applied to them.

Violating this law was the charge against the Melungeons..
Vardy Collins was indicted by the Grand Jury.
I have found most of the grand Jury verdicts and they all read the same regarding the charge.- I will read part of the Vardy Collins indictment by the Grand Jury which leaves no doubt on what the charges were.
7 August 1846- “On the 7th day of August in the year of our lord 1845 did then and there knowingly and unlawfully did vote in an election held under the constitution and laws of the United States of America and the State of Tennessee for representatives, Governor and members of the state legislature, being disqualified to vote by the laws of this state on account of color, and from being a competent witness in our courts of law in any case whatever except against each other.

This is only a small part of the reading of this indictment as it keeps repeating he was a free person of color and by voting he violated the laws of the United States and this State of Tennessee.

On Tuesday 25 May 1847 there was a settlement made as the state entered a Nollie Prosequi, I will read from the case “And therefore appeared Timothy Williams aquaintaint of the defendant and confesses judgment for the cost in this on behalf of the defendant and the said Timothy Williams Acknowledges himself the security of the defendant and for the fine and cost aforesaid and confesses judgment for the same. It is therefore concluded by the court that the state recover against the defendant and Timothy Williams the fine and cost aforesaid."

The others in this group were tried by two separate juries on Saturday 29 January 1848, after Wiatt Collins was found not guilty the state dropped the charges on Solomon, Levi, Ezekial and Andrew Collins and most likely because they were all closely related. The Judge ordered that all the cost was to be paid by the county and state.

But they proceeded to try Zachariah Minor and by another Jury. After Zachariah was found not guilty by this jury the state dropped the charges on his brother Lewis Minor and the Judge also ordered that the County and State pay all the cost of this trial.

My biggest disappointment was not finding John Netherlands' argument, but I don’t believe it was the showing of feet as mentioned by Burnett, many old articles imply the argument was Portuguese.

Before the war the Malungeon's had a hard time in obtaining the right to vote and to send their children to the primitive public schools of that day. The white citizens declared they were Negros, and the matter finally caused so much bickering and strife between the Malungeons and the whites that it was carried into the courts. In the trials which followed it was developed that the ancestors of these people had emigrated to America about 150 years ago from the interior of Portugal.
To add credence to this story both my Minor and Goins families was enumerated as Portuguee in the 1870 federal census of Hancock County.

To have been found guilty under the act of 1794 the state would have to prove they had an Indian or Negro ancestor to the third generation which would have been from their Great Grandparents. Zachariah Minor was my 5th generation Grandfather.

This next case leaves no doubt that some of the elected officials wanted the Melungeons who they called free persons of color out of the county and the state of Tennessee.

State of Tennessee vs Ambrose Hopkins, the grand jury summoned impaneled and sworn and charged to inquire of the body of the county of Hawkins aforesaid, upon their oath present that a certain Ambrose Hopkins “A Free Man Of Color” and not a NATIVE of said county and state. On or about the first day of Jan. in the year of our lord 1845 removed himself from an adjoining state into this the said county and state aforesaid and the jurors upon their oath further present and say that the said Ambrose Hopkins a free man of color, having been duly notified more than 20 days before this Sept term of the circuit Court 1852 to LEAVE THIS THE SAID COUNTY OF HAWKINS AND STATE OF TENNESSEE.

Note the 20 days mentioned above was pertaining to the following law. In 1831 Tennessee added another law–Chapter 102 Public Acts of 1831. This act declared it unlawful “for any free person of color, whether he be born free, or emancipated agreeably to the laws in force, either now or at any time in any state within the United State to remove himself to this state and remain there more than 20 days. (Meigs Reports Vol 1 P332)
Ambrose Hopkins did not leave the state but he may have moved over in Hancock County.
more here

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