A notorious 1830 state Supreme Court decision often cited by abolitionists in the 1850s soon will be commemorated with a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker.
The marker, which will be placed in Edenton, N.C., near the site of the original offense, chronicles the outcome of State v. Mann. When the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction of John Mann, it gave the absolute right of control over an enslaved person to a slaveowner, and, by proxy, someone in temporary possession of an enslaved person.
Mann, a poor white resident of Edenton, had hired an enslaved woman named Lydia from her owner Elizabeth Jones. On March 1, 1829, Mann tried to whip Lydia, who attempted to escape. Mann then shot and recaptured her. He was charged with assault and battery and put on trial in the county superior court. As Mann was not Lydia’s owner but had hired her from her owner, he was considered liable for the assault by the jury and convicted. Mann then appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction.
Justice Thomas Ruffin, who wrote the ruling, gave slaveholders the power of nearly unlimited physical force in disciplining enslaved persons. The impact of State v. Mann went far beyond its influence on how the judicial system regulated slavery. Abolitionists frequently cited the ruling and examples from its text as illustrations of the brutal immorality of slavery. The ruling and its text were central to the plot of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1856 novel “Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp.”
The marker will be dedicated at the corner of Broad and Freemason streets in Edenton on Sunday, Sept. 17, following a ceremony at the Historic 1767 Chowan County Courthouse at 2 p.m. Jaki Shelton Green, Poet Laureate of North Carolina, will recite a poem at the dedication site.
For more information about the historical marker and the event, please visit http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=A-94.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.