Thursday, November 14, 2013

Intriguing colonial court document

This document, dated January 4, 1723, is bluntly labeled on the verso as "Jesse Harding's recognizance about killing the Indian."  

Jesse is identified as being from Eastham, Massachusetts and about fourteen years old.  Before justices of the peace in Barnstable County, Jesse and the other person charged acknowledged themselves to be bound to their sovereign King George by way of recognizance in the sum of 500 pounds.  The recognizance aimed to secure their appearance at the next sitting of His Majesty's Court of Assize in April 1724.  The charge?  Killing one Betty Stephen, described in the recognizance as an Indian woman.  

Some background research by the dealer led to a summary of the subsequent findings by the grand jury.  Apparently, despite finding that Jesse fatally shot Betty in the neck in an act of premeditation, the grand jury returned the bill of indictment with the notation "ignoramus," which means that the bill was rejected and the parties discharged.  One has to wonder how much the victim's race, as well as the accused's age, factored into the grand jury's determination.

Many thanks to Michael von der Linn of The Lawbook Exchange for the fascinating description and background research on this intriguing item. 

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