Early Grayson County Criminals

Grayson Crime

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Early Grayson County Criminals

Crime and punishment was a very real part of Grayson County from its earliest habitation. The following abstracts for criminal cases may offend some readers, however, to deny that it occurred is to deny that the citizens of the Valley were human with human frailties. The infractions listed are also a very significant indications of the moral standards to which the community was held. Some of these offense are trivial in modern thinking, however, considering how little the residents had during these pioneer days, often a small amount represented a considerable part of one's personal property.

Early Grayson County Crime and Criminals
DateAbstract of Court Record
August 29, 1793 "Negro man named Natt, the property of James Cox," On suspicion of his feloniously taking from Thomas Blair, one duck blanket of the value of fifteen shillings. Found guilty by the court, but the prisoner requested corporal punishment, and the thing stolen was of small value so the court ordered that he receive fifteen lashes at the public whipping post to be laid on his bare back by the sheriff.
August 29, 1793 James Cox. On suspicion of his feloniously taking from Thomas Blair certain castings and iron of the value of $1.50. The court was of the opinion that he was not guilty and ordered him acquitted.
November 9, 1793 William Stone. On suspicion of his feloniously taking from Jonathan Thomas one pair of horse shoes of the value of fourteen pence. The court was of the opinion that the evidence was sufficient to convict and ordered him bound over to the next quarterly session.
March 26, 1794 John Hudson. On suspicion of his feloniously taking from Thomas Jones one axe of the value of one dollar. The court was of the opinion that the evidence was sufficient to convict the prisoner and order him bound over to the District Court.
March 26, 1794 Henry Harden. Accused of feloniously taking and carrying away a mine pick of the goods of Thomas Blair, of the value of one dollar. The court was of the opinion that the prisoner was innocent and ordered him set at liberty.
May 27, 1794 Thomas Jessop. Accused of feloniously "bougering" a mare on the 9th of April. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to convict him and ordered him bound over to the District Court.
(Court records for 1795 through 1806 are missing)
March 25, 1807 William Allen (of Chestnut Creek). Accused of horsestealing. The Court found him not guilty.
March 26, 1807 Daniel Bedsaul. Accused of petit larceny and found not guilty.
May 26, 1807 William Keys. Accused of feloniously stealing one drawing chair, the property of Samuel McClure. The court found him not guilty.
October 14, 1807 William Taylor. Accused of feloniously passing a base and counterfeit piece of metal in the form of a dollar, knowing the same to be base. The court dismissed the charge, stating that the Commonwealth had not sufficiently proven the metal was base.
October 14, 1807 James Porter. Accused of feloniously passing a piece of base metal, in the form of a dollar, knowing the same to be base. The court found him not guilty.
December 22, 1807 Peter Stotts. Accused of larceny and arson. The court found the evidence sufficient to convict him of the larceny charge and ordered him bound over.
___________, 1808 Jacob Roberts. Offense not given. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted.
June 14, 1808 James Swinney, Jr. Accused of having taken, stolen and carried away last May a parcel of fodder and oats of the property of Jehu Mash. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted.
July 25, 1809 Daniel Jones. Accused of having stolen and carried away on June 7, 1809, two quarters of a dollar, the property of Joshua Parker. The court was of the opinion that the offense ought to be tried in the County Court and ordered him bound over to the next quarterly court.
August 3, 1809. Thomas Garner, a free negro. Accused of feloniously forging the name of William Bobbitt to an assignment to the said Thomas Garner on a not executed by Zachariah Stanley to William Bobbitt. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted and discharged out of custody.
September 2, 1809 Paul Collins. Accused of having feloniously stolen on July 9, 1809, seven piges of the property of James Sumner. The court found him not guilty.
September 2, 1809 Polly Rose. Accused of having feloniously stolen and carried away out of the apple orchard of John Isom, one old axe on August 24, 1809. The court quashed the prosecution.
October 24, 1809 Gilbert Sexton. Accused with having feloniously murdered Mary Melone on Sep. 21. The court was of the opinion that he ought to be tried in the Superior Court and ordered him bound over.
January 4, 1810 James Rose. Accused of having feloniously stolen, taken and carried away a "Cotten Habit", the property of William Taylor and his wife. The court found that he ought to be tried of petit larceny in the County Court. Case tried on March 28, 1810 by a jury, found guilty and sentenced to receive 25 lashes.
January 24, 1810 Samuel Jones. Accused of having stolen and carried away one mattock, the property of John Frost on October 1, 1808. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted and discharged out of custody.
January 24, 1810 John Sullivan. Accused of having stolen, taken and carried away one curb bridle of the value of $2.00 of the property of Timothy Perkins. The court found that he ought to be tried in the County Court and bound him over. Cased was tried on March 27 by a jury which found him guilty and sentenced him to receive 20 lashes.
February 27, 1810 Joseph Stuart. Accused with stealing and carrying away one dollar, the property of Peter Cooley on the 22nd of the month. The court found him not guilty and ordered him discharged.
May 11, 1810 Thomas Wilson. Accused of stealing, taking and carrying away one gelding horse the property of Samuel McClure on May 1, 1810. The court found the evidence sufficient and remanded him to jail.
May 22, 1810 Paul Collins. Accused of having stolen and carried away in March 1808, two hogs of the property of James Cox. The court found him not guilty and ordered him released.
June 6, 1810 Enoch Baldwin. Accused of stealing and carrying away one weeding hoe of the property of Moses Halsey on May 27, 1810. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered him to be tried in the County Court. The Grand Jury refused to indict him at August Court 1810.
October 17, 1810 Absolom Burnett. Accused of having stolen and carried away one man's saddle of the property of James Dodson. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted and discharged from custody.
October 31, 1810 Paul Collins. Accused with having feloniously taken, stolen and led away one roan horse, the property of William Toliver. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered remanded to jail, to appear before the next session of the Superior Court of Law for Grayson.
August 21, 1811 Paulser Rimer. Accused of having feloniously killed and stolen one cow, the property of Andrew Parks on the 12th of the month. The court found that the evidence was not sufficient and ordered the defendant acquitted.
September 21,1811 Stephen Brown. Charged with having stolen and carried away six dollars of the property of Richard Stokes. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered the defendant bound over to the next Superior Court.
November 1, 1811 John Allen. Charged with having feloniously stolen, taken and carried away fifty pounds of beef, the property of Elisha Edwards, on the 21st of September. The court found the evidence insufficient and ordered him released and discharged.
October 23, 1811 Peter, a slave of Sheppard. Charged with having on Oct. 11, feloniously broken open the dwelling house of Stephen South and stolen therefrom one gun, one hat, one greatcoat and some money. The court found him guilty and ordered that he be punished by being burned in the hand in open court and that he receive thirty-nine lashes on his naked back; the jailer was ordered to immediately execute the sentence.
January 22, 1812 Robert Commons. Charged with having stolen and carried away three hogs, the property of John C. Hiatt. The court found him not guilty and ordered him acquitted and discharged out of custody.
January 22, 1812 Chesley Ward. Accused of having on Nov. 20, 1808, stolen and carried away fifty pounds of bar iron, the property of Joseph Jackson. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered him bound over to the next quarterly session of the County Court. The Grand Jury did not return a bill of indictment.
May 18, 1812 Jesse Taylor. Accused of having on July 2, 1811 feloniously stolen, taken and carried away one two year old heifer, one yearling steer, and seven two year old barrows of the property of Nathaniel Frisbie. The court found the evidence not sufficient and ordered the accused acquitted and discharged from custody.
August 3, 1812 Daniel Bedsaul. Accused of having on June 7 stolen and taken away one gelding, the property of John A. Grigg. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered him bound over to Superior Court.
March 24, 1813 William Smith. Accused of having on February 5, feloniously passed to William Lamsberry one counterfeit federal eagle. The court found the evidence sufficient and ordered him bound over to Superior Court.
April 28, 1813 James, a slave. Accused of having feloniously stolen, taken and carried away one greatcoat and one pair of stockings, the property of Frederick Secrease. The court found him guilty and ordered that he be punished by burned in the hand in open court and by receiving twenty-five lashes on his bare back.
July 27, 1813 James Linday. Accused of having stolen, taken and carried away one pair of cotton pantaloons, the property of Reuben Branscom. The court found the evidence sufficient and bound him over to the next session of the County Court. At the August Court the accused appeared and at his trial pled that he was Elisha Smallwood and not James Linday, and the jury so found. He was reindicted at October Court 1813 as Elisha Smallwood, but was not found in the county.

Crime rates for all crime during the period of this study are unavailable, however, the 1916 homicide rate for the region are probably indicative of murder in the region during the ante-bellum period. These numbers are also probably not indicative of the civil war years or the period of reconstruction. In Virginia the murder rate in the Blue Ridge was 6.0 per 100,000 population in 1916, while the state wide rate was 11.9; the mountain total was 8.1. In the Blue Ridge section of North Carolina the murder rate was 8.5, while the state wide total was 8.4. Campbell also reports that the murder rate among the black population was disproportionately high, which raised the statewide murder rates, perhaps skewing the mountain rate, where few blacks enter the picture, in relation to the rest of their respective states. For example, the black murder rate in North Carolina's mountains was 20.8 per 100,000 population, while the white murder rate was 7.5. Statewide the white murder rate was 4.2 versus 15.8 for blacks. The theory of mountaineer justice and retribution seem to hold true if these numbers are truly reflective of society. Murder rates among mine workers, and probably other laborers, such as lumbermen, was somewhat higher in the small but growing industrial communities of the mountain south.

Not all crime was violent, nor was crime limited to the poorer residents of the Upper New River Valley. For example, Samuel McCamant, a member of the Virginia legislature from Grayson County, was charged with illegal gambling in Wythe County, Virginia on August 27, 1834. The specific charges against McCamant were playing cards and roullette. Other objectional behavior in the ante-bellum Upper New River Valley was drinking too much, or drinking more than necessary on Sunday. Gambling on cards, horse races or various other games of chance were likewise considered vices of the time. Petty theft occupied much of the criminal justice system in the Upper New River Valley as well. Other prevalent problems found in the court records are breech of contracts and assaults. The Ashe County, North Carolina Superior Court Records are infuriatingly silent on particular crimes, but note many citizens were found guilty of sundry violations of the law and fined or jailed for short periods, but charges are not recorded.

More serious criminal charges, such as murder, rape, arson and grand theft, happended, as they did every where people live, but were not everyday events. When such a crime was charged, the courts became a virtual side-show with many of the residents appearing on court days simply to view the spectacle. During the Ante-bellum period one of the most talked about crimes had national undercurrents, though the crime was probably not well known outside the immediate region.

Jails, Stocks and Gallows

According to John Preston Arthur, Jefferson was the site of the second jail west of the Blue Ridge (presumably in North Carolina). This structure was log and served the needs of the criminal justice system until 1833 when it was replaced with a brick structure. This jail was burned in 1865 by men in Federal Army uniforms, thought to have been members of Major General George Stoneman's Raiders, though they could have been Union Army Deserters, or local men who had joined the Union Army seeking to settle an old score with local Confederates. The jail was rebuilt and served until burned by inmates in 1887, when repaired and served into the 20th century. Ashe County also had a set of stocks erected in the public square in old Jefferson. At what point they ceased to be used is unknown.

Alleghany County does not seem to have a separate jail until after the conclusion of the Civil War. This jail, large enough for only two or three prisoners had a dungeon. An early sanitation report on the Alleghany County jail noted that the jail was filthy, had a horrible odor, and should be demolished. Whether or not the recommendations were accepted by the county court is unknown.

Incarceration facilities in Grayson County were first established at Old Town and remained there until the courthouse and other county offices were moved to Independence about 1852. Grayson county also employed a whipping post and stocks at the court facilities at Old Town, but there is no indication that they were used at Independence.