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William Johnson's Hypothesis: A Free Black Man and the Problem of Legal Knowledge in the Antebellum United States South

  • Kimberly Welch
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She thanks Richard Blackett, Ari Bryen, Scott Heerman, Sarah Igo, Anne Twitty, and the anonymous referees for Law and History Review for their valuable comments and suggestions. She dedicates this article to the memory and example of Ira Berlin.

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1. Epigraph from William Johnson's Diary (hereafter Diary), November 4, 1850, the William T. Johnson Family Papers, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections (LLMV), Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (hereafter Johnson Papers, LLMV).

2. Edwards, Laura F., The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Gross, Ariela J., Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000); and Turner, Felicity, “Rights and the Ambiguities of the Law: Infanticide in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. South,” Journal of the Civil War Era 4 (2014): 350–72.

3. Edwards, The People and Their Peace.

4. Gross, Double Character; Grinberg, Keila, “Freedom Suits and Civil Law in Brazil and the United States,” Slavery & Abolition 22 (2001): 6682; Kennington, Kelly M., In the Shadow of Dred Scott: St. Louis Freedom Suits and the Legal Culture of Slavery in Antebellum America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017); Schafer, Judith Kelleher, Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846–1862 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2003); Schweninger, Loren, “Freedom Suits, African American Women, and the Genealogy of Slavery,” The William and Mary Quarterly 71 (2014): 3562; Twitty, Anne, Before Dred Scott: Slavery and Legal Culture in the American Confluence, 1787–1857 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); and VanderVelde, Lea, Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

5. Welch, Kimberly M., Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018). See also Aslakson, Kenneth R., Making Race in the Courtroom: The Legal Construction of Three Races in Early New Orleans (New York: New York University Press, 2014); Jones, Martha, “Hughes v. Jackson: Race and Rights beyond Dred Scott,” North Carolina Law Review 91 (2013): 1757–84; Jones, Martha, “Leave of Court: African American Claims-Making in the Era of Dred Scott v. Sanford,” in Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History, ed. Sinha, Manisha and Von Eschen, Penny M. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 5474; Maris-Wolf, Ted, Family Bonds: Free Blacks and Re-Enslavement Law in Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Welch, Kimberly, “Black Litigiousness and White Accountability: Free Blacks and the Rhetoric of Reputation in the Antebellum Natchez District,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5 (2015): 372–98; and West, Emily, Family or Freedom: People of Color in the Antebellum South (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012).

6. Twitty, Before Dred Scott, 21.

7. For distinctions between “law” and “the law,” see Edwards, The People and Their Peace, 27–29.

8. Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South.

9. In addition to Johnson's fourteen-volume diary, these materials include cashbooks, daybooks, ledgers, bills, and receipts that document the money he made and how he made it, and the money he spent and how he spent it. The collection also includes letters to and from family members, friends, and business partners and the memorabilia of his and his family's daily life: newspapers, drawings, sheet music, and more. Johnson Papers, LLMV.

10. On methodological cautions for reading legal sources, see Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South, 21–22. See also Twitty, Before Dred Scott, 19–20; and Edwards, The People and Their Peace, 23–24.

11. My thinking here is influenced by Sally Engle Merry's definition of legal consciousness: as “the ways people understand and use law,” an understanding that “develops through individual experience.” As Merry argues, “the law consists of a complex repertoire of meanings and categories understood differently by people depending on their experience with and knowledge of the law.” Consciousness, moreover, is changeable. Merry, Sally Engle, Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal Consciousness Among Working-Class Americans (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 5. For an exploration of the varieties of legal consciousness, see Ewick, Patricia and Silby, Susan S., The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998).

12. For an example of the power documents offered free people of color (for freedom and security, especially), see Scott, Rebecca and Hébrard, Jean, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

13. Several scholars have engaged William Johnson's diary, but none have examined it as a source of legal history. For a biography of Johnson, see Davis, Edwin Adams and Hogan, William Ransom, The Barber of Natchez (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1954). For scholars interested in Johnson as a free black barber, see Bristol, Douglas W., Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009); and Mills, Quincy T., Cutting Across the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). For historians interested in the social and cultural life of free women of color in Natchez and the lives of Johnson's mother, wife, and daughters, see Broussard, Joyce L., Stepping Lively in Place: The Not-Married, Free Women of Civil-War-Era Natchez, Mississippi (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016); and Gould, Virginia Meacham, ed., Chained to the Rock of Adversity: To Be Free, Black & Female in the Old South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998). For a legal history that examines the circumstances of Johnson's death, see Gross, Double Character.

14. Hogan, William Ransom and Davis, Edwin Adams, eds., William Johnson's Natchez: The Ante-Bellum Diary of a Free Negro (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 1517.

15. James Miller, a free black man from Philadelphia, married Johnson's sister Adelia in 1820. He ran one of the most successful barbershops in Natchez for about a decade. The couple moved to New Orleans in 1830 but remained close to the Johnson family. By the antebellum period, skilled black barbers such as Miller and Johnson controlled the tonsorial market and offered their services to the white elite. Several owned their own shops. Many became successful entrepreneurs and leaders of their communities. On black barbers, see Bristol, Knights of the Razor; and Mills, Cutting Along the Color Line. For more on James Miller, see Ingram, John N. and Feldman, Lynne B., African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 380–81.

16. Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 20.

17. Daybook, Volume 11, 1830 May–April 1835, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

18. This was true for most black barbers in the antebellum South. See Bristol, Knights of the Razor.

19. Baldwin, Joseph G., The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi: A Series of Sketches (New York: Hill and Wang, 1853, 1957), 83.

20. Ibid., 87. For more on nineteenth–century Natchez and its environs, see Broussard, Stepping Lively in Place; Gross, Double Character; Johnson, Walter, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013); Kaye, Anthony E., Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Moore, John Hebron, The Emergence of the Cotton Kingdom in the Old Southwest: Mississippi, 1770–1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988); Rothman, Adam, Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); Rothman, Joshua D., Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012); and Wayne, Michael, The Reshaping of Plantation Society: The Natchez District, 1860–80 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

21. Johnson bought his first slave in 1832 and over the course of his life owned a total of thirty-one enslaved people. When he died in 1851, he possessed fifteen slaves valued at $6,075 (six of whom he had recently inherited from his mother). Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 35.

22. Johnson recorded the loans he extended in both his diary and his daybooks and ledgers. These figures come from a systematic pass through the diary, daybooks, and ledgers; I made note of each time he mentioned moneylending in his diary (and entered those amounts and details into a spreadsheet) and then double-checked the totals in the daybooks and ledgers. It is possible that these numbers were even higher, as Johnson sometimes neglected to make note of an initial loan (only later noting that a borrower had paid the debt). Therefore, some loans might be missing.

23. Gould, Chained to the Rock of Adversity, xxiv–xxvi.

24. Johnson Papers, LLMV. See also Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 39.

25. For example, see Diary, December 30, 1835; and July 30, 1836.

26. Diary, September 13, 1850.

27. Diary, October 24, 1849.

28. Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 48–49.

29. Diary, June 9, 1850. Okah Tubbee (alias William Chubbee) was also known as Warner McCary, a man of color born enslaved in Natchez (and he later took on the name William McCary). He claimed to be the son of a Choctaw chief. Although his official lineage is murky, it appears that he was the brother of Johnson's close friend, Robert McCary, which could explain why Johnson described this book as a “pack of lies.” See Allen, Lewis Leonidas, A Thrilling Sketch of the Life of the Distinguished Chief Okah Tubbee Alias, Wm. Chubbee, Son of the Head Chief, Mosholeh Tubbee, of the Choctaw Nation of Indians (New York, 1848), Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/tubbee1848/summary.html (accessed November 1, 2017); and Littlefield, Daniel F. Jr., ed., The Life of Okah Tubbee (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

30. Diary, April 20, 1842.

31. Diary, January 31, 1836.

32. For example, see Diary, November 1, 1841.

33. Diary, January 1, 1842. The French lessons continued for at least 2 years. See Diary, March 19, 1844; and March 27, 1844.

34. Baldwin, The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi, 34.

35. For more on the Natchez bar, see Foote, Henry Stuart, The Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest (St. Louis, MO: Soule, Thomas & Wentworth, 1876); Gross, Double Character; and Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South.

36. On legal education in the long nineteenth century, see Macgill, Hugh C. and Newmyer, R. Kent, “Legal Education and Legal Thought, 1790–1920,” in The Cambridge History of Law in America, Vol. II, ed. Grossberg, Michael and Tomlins, Christopher (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 3667; and Konefsky, Alfred S., “The Legal Profession: From the Revolution to the Civil War,” The Cambridge History of Law in America, Vol. II, ed. Grossberg, Michael and Tomlins, Christopher (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 68105.

37. Diary, June 30, 1837.

38. William Johnson to Adelia Miller, October 4, 1837. Quoted in Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 45.

39. Diary, November 23, 1837.

40. Diary, October 26, 1841.

41. Amey v. Davis, Adams County, Mississippi, 1814, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1810–19, Box 30, File 15, Courthouse Records Project, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi (hereafter CRP, HNF).

42. Johnson v. Hunter, Adams County, Mississippi, 1816, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1810–19, Box 36, File 69, CRP, HNF.

43. Johnson v. Mitchum, Adams County, Mississippi, 1822, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1820–29, Box 12, File 96, CRP, HNF.

44. Territory of Mississippi v. Johnson, FWC, Adams County, Mississippi, 1816, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1810–19, Box 35, File 12, CRP, HNF.

45. Johnson, FWC v Moore, Adams County, Mississippi, 1823, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1820–29, Box 17, File 61, CRP, HNF. John A. Quitman, Governor of Mississippi, judge on the Mississippi High Court of Errors and Appeals, and Mexican War general, began his career as a lawyer in Natchez. His partner, John T. McMurran, provided William Johnson with legal services in several land acquisitions. Other local attorneys (such as John Fort Muse) provided Amy Johnson counsel on occasion.

46. Diary, November 19, 1847.

47. On Natchez's legal environment, see Gross, Double Character, ch. 1. On the “localized” legal system of the post-Revolutionary South, see Edwards, The People and Their Peace. On the county as the central unit of government in the Old South and the importance of local courts, see Bardaglio, Peter, Reconstructing the Household: Families: Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), ch. 1; Burton, Orville Vernon, In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 2830; Sydnor, Charles, The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819–1848 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1848), 3354; and Wooster, Ralph, The People in Power: Statehouse and Courthouse in the Lower South, 1850–1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1969), 81107.

48. Gross, Double Character, 23.

49. For a discussion of African Americans’ frequent observation of hearings, trials, and inquests, see Edwards, Laura, “Status without Rights: African Americans and the Tangled History of Law and Governance in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. South,” The American Historical Review 112 (2007): 365–93; and Turner, “Rights and the Ambiguities of the Law.” On enslaved people providing information and gossip, see Edwards, The People and Their Peace; and Gross, Double Character.

50. State of Mississippi v. Mitchum, Adams County, Mississippi, 1819, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1820–29, Box 1, File 99, CRP, HNF.

51. See Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South.

52. Black Ben, FMC v. Brooks and Claiborne, Adams County, Mississippi, 1814, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1810–19, Box 25, File 61, CRP, HNF; and Ben v. Brooks, Adams County, Mississippi, 1816, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1810–19, Box 31, File 80, CRP, HNF. For other examples of free people of color suing whites over property disputes, see Clark v. Jones, Adams County, Mississippi, 1825, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1820–29, Box 36, File 56, CRP, HNF; Hardes v. Mosby, Adams County, Mississippi, 1835, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1830–39, Box 23, File 11, CRP, HNF; Bossack v. Holden, Adams County, Mississippi, 1835, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1830–39, Box 24, File 27, CRP, HNF; and Bossack v. Holden, Adams County, Mississippi, 1836, Records of the Circuit Court, Group 1830–39, Box 41, File 78, CRP, HNF.

53. Andre v. The State of Mississippi, Adams County, Mississippi, 1825, Records of the Circuit Court, Habeas Corpus Files, Box 2, CRP, HNF. For other examples of people of color held as runaway slaves and suing for their freedom in Adams County, Mississippi, see State of Mississippi v. Grayson, Adams County, Mississippi, 1821, Records of the Circuit Court, Habeas Corpus Files, Box 5, CRP, HNF; State of Mississippi v. Kiah, Adams County, Mississippi, 1821, Records of the Circuit Court, Habeas Corpus Files, Box 5, CRP, HNF; and State of Mississippi v. Lewis, Adams County, Mississippi, 1841, Records of the Circuit Court, Habeas Corpus Files, Box 3, CRP, HNF.

54. See, for example, Diary, December 20, 1849; and February 27, 1850.

55. See Diary, May 22, 1847.

56. See Diary, September 27, 1843.

57. Diary, May 1, 1850.

58. For example, see Diary, November 27, 1835; November 28, 1835; and April 30, 1851.

59. Diary, February 2, 1844.

60. Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South, ch. 3.

61. Diary, October 28, 1849.

62. Diary, October 29, 1849.

63. Diary, August 29, 1839.

64. For example, he noted in his diary that business was especially brisk during the November 1850 court session because a “Greate many Persons are in town.” Diary, November 11, 1850.

65. Diary, November 16, 1850.

66. Diary, November 19, 1847.

67. Diary, October 9, 1841.

68. Diary, January 7, 1842.

69. Ibid.

70. William Johnson to Adelia Miller, August 6, 1837, quoted in Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 26.

71. William Johnson to Adelia Miller, September 25, 1837, ibid., 26–27.

72. Diary, August 3, 1842.

73. Balleisen, Edward J., Navigating Failure Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

74. Diary, September 1, 1841.

75. Silkenat, David, Moments of Despair Suicide, Divorce, & Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 156.

76. Ibid., 154–58.

77. On debt and morality in early America, see Balleisen, Navigating Failure; Mann, Bruce, Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Sandage, Scott, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); and Welch, Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South.

78. Diary, January 26, 1843.

79. Diary, September 27, 1843.

80. Mississippi made judicial offices elective in 1832. On the growth of the elected judiciary, see Hall, Kermit L., “The Judiciary on Trial: State Constitutional Reform and the Rise of an Elected Judiciary, 1846–1860,” The Historian 45 (1983): 337–54.

81. Judge Joseph S. B. Thatcher's character, for example, captured his attention, and Johnson followed his bid for reelection. See Diary, October 24, 1849; October 25, 1849; and October 27, 1849. Thatcher lost the election and later served as Baylor Winn's attorney in his case against Johnson.

82. Diary, November 7, 1847. See also Diary November 6, 1847; and November 9, 1847.

83. Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 24–27. See also Cash Book, Volume 7, 1828 November–1835 September; Daybook, Volume 12, 1830 October–1840 October; and Daybook, Volume 13, 1830 October–1844 October, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

84. Diary, January 19, 1836.

85. Ledger, Volume 34, 1835 August–1839 November, 61–62, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

86. On the pervasiveness of debt in early America, see Balleisen, Navigating Failure; Mann, Republic of Debtors; Sandage, Born Losers; and Silkenat, Moments of Despair.

87. Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 32.

88. For example, see Diary, November 10, 1835; and June 14, 1842.

89. For example, Adolph Flecheux (or Flecho), a jeweler-engraver, rented a storefront from Johnson for approximately a year and half. Johnson had trouble with Flecheux, however, as his rent went unpaid for months at a time. Eventually Johnson sued him for $180 in back rent, but lost the case on a technicality. Diary, April 28, 1837. For examples of Northern free black businessmen and their occasional involvement in lawsuits, see Winch, Julie, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and White, Shane, Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015). On property-holding black women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina, and their use of the law, see Myers, Amrita Chakrabarti, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), ch. 4.

90. For example, see Diary, May 26, 1838.

91. In the antebellum United States, legal mechanisms involving debt collection favored lenders, and creditors nearly always won their cases. As Bruce Mann demonstrates, in debt cases throughout the United States in late the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries “debtors almost invariably” lost. Mann, Republic of Debtors, 21.

92. Diary, January 8, 1841.

93. Diary, August 3, 1836.

94. Diary, August 4, 1836.

95. On the assignability of written credit instruments in early America and the movement of promissory notes through the economy, see Mann, Republic of Debtors, 12–18.

96. Diary, August 6, 1836.

97. Others asked Johnson to collect their loans for them, including white men. See Diary, March 16, 1836; May 17, 1836; May 25, 1836; and July 5, 1836.

98. For example, see Diary, February 22, 1836; and March 4, 1836.

99. It appears that in debt actions, Johnson only sued white men. I have not found evidence of a lawsuit for debt recovery initiated against another person of color. He sued a free man of color in the late 1840s, but that was over a boundary dispute (discussed later). Moreover, it is not surprising that Johnson primarily sued white men, as white men made up the majority of his clientele and business associates.

100. Diary, July 7, 1842.

101. Diary, March 30, 1843.

102. Diary, April 10, 1843. Johnson sued in other cases too. In August 1838, Johnson sued Henry Woodruff and the court ordered Woodruff “to pay the money in five days.” Diary, August 16, 1838. He also learned about the process and rules of litigation through trial and error. Indeed, suing in court taught him valuable lessons. For example, in 1837, Johnson lost a case for back rent on a technicality because he only had “one witness and the law requires that there shall be two witnesses in such cases.” As he indicated in his diary, this was not a mistake that he intended to repeat in the future. Diary, April 28, 1837.

103. Daybook, Volume 10, 1822 February–June, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

104. Rosenthal, Caitlin, “Slavery's Scientific Management: Masters and Managers,” in Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development, ed. Beckert, Sven and Rothman, Seth (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 6286.

105. Diary, October 12, 1835.

106. For example, see Diary, October 15, 1835.

107. As Rebecca Scott and Jean Hébrard have demonstrated, “a person could … make things happen by putting words to paper.” Scott and Hébrard, Freedom Papers, 3.

108. Fahad Bishara's and Kathryn Burns's scholarship influences my thinking here. In particular, both highlight how scribes and notaries used writing and official documentation to construct or shape truth and meaning. See Bishara, Fahad Ahmad, Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780–1950 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Burns, Kathryn, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

109. For example, see Daybook, Volume 11, 1830 May–April 1835; and Daybook, Volume 12, 1830 October–1840 October, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

110. Legal and financial documents, Box 1, Folder 16, 1830–1839; and Diary, June 19, 1838.

111. For partnership and hiring agreements, see Diary, January 4, 1848; January 22, 1848; and January 15, 1850.

112. Diary, August 3, 1849.

113. For a discussion of a case in which the mother of an apprentice had to intervene and remind Johnson that her son's service time was up, see Diary, May 22, 1848. It is in the telling of stories about his slaves, however, that Johnson's diary reveals the most about how he shaped the facts to favor himself. Indeed, his story of Steven, an enslaved man who frequently ran away for short periods of time, avoided work, and drank heavily as a means to escape, is a story of Steven's supposed mental and moral deficiencies, and especially Steven's alcoholism, not Steven's very obvious (in my reading anyhow) problems with enslavement, especially enslavement by a fellow black man and former slave who worked him hard and had him whipped. For some examples, see Diary, September 3, 1836; March 19, 1838; December 17, 1843; December 30, 1843, and January 1, 1844.

114. I adopt this phrase from Mnookin, Robert H. and Kornhauser, Lewis, “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: The Case of Divorce,” The Yale Law Journal 88 (1979): 950–97.

115. Legal and financial documents, 1793–1935, Box 1, Folder 13, Baptismal records, 1842–1856; Box 1, Folder 15, 1822–1829; Box 1, Folder 16, 1830–1839, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

116. Diary, August 21, 1841; August 24, 1841; September 5, 1841; and September 9, 1841.

117. Diary, September 3, 1841.

118. Diary, September 9, 1841.

119. Diary, August 21, 1841; and September 9, 1841.

120. See Diary, August and September 1841.

121. William Johnson Deed of Conveyance with Jacob Eiler, 1833 October 15, Box 1, Folder 16, 1830–1839, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

122. Diary, May 17, 1839.

123. For an example of Johnson drawing up a deed and transferring title to a tract of land, see Diary, October 28, 1835.

124. Diary, October 12, 1835; October 20, 1835; November 23, 1835; and November 26, 1835.

125. Diary, January 1, 1843

126. Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 36.

127. Legal and financial documents, 1793–1935, Box 1, Folder 18, 1843–1849, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

128. Johnson began to comment on Moseby's land as early as 1843. In 1846, he applied significant pressure on Moseby to turn over his land, something Moseby was obviously reluctant to do, particularly given the terms that Johnson offered. See, for example, Diary, May 1, 1843; August 1, 1846; August 8, 1846; and September 21, 1846.

129. Diary, January 11, 1847; and January 13, 1847.

130. For example, he noted that, “B. Winns daughter just escaped from irons that her father had chained her in to keep her from getting married to a Mr. Burk the woodchopper, and the young one also tried to escape but she could not. So stands the affair.” Diary, May 12, 1847.

131. Although Johnson made Wade party to the lawsuit, it was Winn who attracted his anger, as it was Winn who did the chopping. Very rarely did Johnson involve Wade in the negotiations or arguments.

132. Diary, January 16, 1849.

133. Diary, April 10, 1849.

134. Diary, August 19, 1849.

135. William Moseby to William T. Johnson, 1849 November 28, Box 1, Folder 1, Correspondence, 1829–1853, Johnson Papers, LLMV. Given the way that Johnson bullied Moseby into selling his land, it is possible that Moseby might have wished to wash his hands of Johnson too. It is also possible that he sold the land to Johnson knowing that a dispute could arise.

136. Diary, December 27, 1849.

137. Diary, December 25, 1849.

138. Diary, November 22, 1849.

139. Diary, December 27, 1849.

140. Diary, November 27, 1835; and November 28, 1835.

141. For an example of expressing admiration for Martin, see Diary, October 18, 1843. For some examples of seeking their advice in the lawsuit, see Diary, September 26, 1849; December 27, 1849; January 1, 1850; January 25, 1850; and February 2, 1850.

142. Diary, September 26, 1849.

143. Diary, January 25, 1850.

144. Diary, May 12, 1850; William Johnson Notice of Survey in the Suit of William Johnson v. Benjamin Wade and Baylor Winn, 1850, Box 1, Folder 19, 1850–1854, Johnson Papers, LLMV.

145. Diary, January 9, 1850.

146. Diary, January 23, 1850.

147. Diary, January 25, 1850.

148. Diary, November 4, 1850.

149. Ibid.

150. Diary, May 9, 1850.

151. Diary, September 12, 1850.

152. Diary, November 11, 1850.

153. Diary, November 19, 1850.

154. Diary, May 2, 1851; and May 3, 1851.

155. Natchez Courier, June 20, 1851

156. Diary, May 9, 1851; May 13, 1851; and May 15, 1851.

157. Diary, May 16, 1851.

158. Diary, June 14, 1851.

159. Davis and Hogan, The Barber of Natchez, ch. 22; Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez; and Gross, Double Character, 63.

160. Quoted in Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 59. See also Davis and Hogan, The Barber of Natchez, 265-66; and Gross, Double Character, 63.

161. Hogan and Davis, William Johnson's Natchez, 60–62. On men of color “performing” whiteness by voting and performing similar activities reserved for whites and then deploying these actions to their benefit in court, see Gross, Ariela J., What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

162. Hogan and Davis, William Johnson's Natchez, 60–62; Legal and financial documents, 1793–1935, Box 1, Folder 19, 1850–1854; and Johnson Papers, LLMV.

163. In a letter to Johnson in late 1849, William Moseby wrote that “[e]very honest man knows B. Winn to be a black hearted wretch and those in co. with him no better.” Moseby to Johnson, November 28, 1849. Newspaper accounts of Winn's trials echoed Moseley's opinion of Winn. The Natchez Courier also implicated Winn as Johnson's murderer and said that he “repeatedly … threaten[ed] Johnson's life.” Quoted in Hogan and Davis, eds., William Johnson's Natchez, 59.

She thanks Richard Blackett, Ari Bryen, Scott Heerman, Sarah Igo, Anne Twitty, and the anonymous referees for Law and History Review for their valuable comments and suggestions. She dedicates this article to the memory and example of Ira Berlin.

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