STATE vs. BEN, THE SLAVE OF J. B. HERRINGTON.--FROM CRAVEN.
SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA
8 N.C. 434; 1821 N.C. LEXIS 41; 1 Hawks 434
December, 1821, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Indictment for burglary, tried before Badger, Judge. In this case, the
fact of burglary was proved by the testimony of a white man, a witness above suspicion, but the
only evidence to shew any agency therein on the part of the prisoner, was given by a slave, and
that evidence was direct and positive. The counsel for the prisoner contended such evidence
was insufficient to convict the prisoner, because not supported by "pregnant circumstances."
The Court instructed the Jury, that whatever rules existed on the subject, were rules of reason
and prudence, addressed to their sound discretion, but that there was no positive rule of law
which should prevent them, if they believe the testimony of the slave, from finding a verdict of
guilty against the prisoner, although his testimony was not supported by other proof.
The Jury found the prisoner guilty; a motion for a new trial was overruled, and sentence of death
passed, from which the prisoner appealed.
DISPOSITION: Rule discharged.
HEADNOTES: Notwithstanding the act of 1741, a slave tried for a capital crime may be
convicted on the testimony of a slave, though uncorroborated by pregnant circumstances.
JUDGES: TAYLOR, Chief-Justice., HENDERSON, Judge. HALL, Judge, dissentiente.
OPINIONBY: TAYLOR; HENDERSON
OPINION: [*434] TAYLOR, Chief-Justice.--I have not been able to ascertain in what manner
slaves, accused of capital [**2] offences, were tried before the year 1741: the collections of the
laws which I have seen, are silent on that subject; but it may be conjectured that the County
Courts entertained jurisdiction. * Among the very few events, connected [*435] with the early
settlement of the State, which history has condescended to notice, that of an insurrection of the
slaves, in 1738, has come down to us; and I infer from the period of its occurrence, that it
suggested the rigorous and detailed system of police which was established in two or three years
afterwards. Accustomed, as our ancestors were, to the usages of the Common Law, and its
solemnity in capital trials, they were probably impelled by a sense of common danger, and the