VII. Sheriff and Slaveowner

Although Evans had relocated to his New River property about 1795, he remained much involved in the civic affairs of Wythe County. He would have frequently traveled the route to present-day Wytheville followed by U.S. Highway 52.

Excerpt of 1795-1796 Wythe County, Va., marriage returns listing marriage of James McCampbell and Ann Evans

Excerpt of 1795-1796 Wythe County, Va., marriage returns listing marriage of James McCampbell and Ann Evans

Son-in-law James McCampbell

Jesse and Elizabeth Evans’s oldest daughter, Ann, married James McCampbell on December 17, 1795—the first marriage of any of their children. (Note 1.) McCampbell was a lawyer in the county and became that district’s prosecutor or deputy attorney for the Commonwealth as early as 1796. (Note 2.)

In January 1798, Jesse Evans sought the assistance of John Preston, who was then a member of the Virginia Senate, in securing McCampbell’s appointment (or reappointment) as deputy attorney. In a letter sent to Preston in Richmond, Evans made the following request. (Note 3.)

I am told by Mr. McCampbell that he has with the bearer forwarded a letter to you requesting your assistance in obtaining the appointment of deputy atty. for the Commonwealth for this District. I feel an anxiety that he should succeed to the appointment. Shall therefore solicit you to exert yourself in conjunction with Col. Brackenridge [Breckenridge] and if possible obtain the appointment for him and your trouble shall not be unrewarded. I feel the greater anxiety on this occasion because he and Major Smith [Smyth] were competitors in an election here yesterday for that office in the County Court and I am told Smith is an applicant for this. Spair no pains therefore if it can be got.

Excerpt of Jan. 10, 1798 letter from Jesse Evans to John Preston (Papers of John and William Preston, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University)

Excerpt of Jan. 10, 1798 letter from Jesse Evans to John Preston (Papers of John and William Preston, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University)

The request on McCampbell’s behalf at the expense of the other applicant, Alexander Smyth, is noteworthy given Evans’s long association with Smyth. McCampbell was, however, now Evans’s son-in-law. The “election” contested between McCampbell and Smyth at the same time probably was held to fill the position of major in the county militia. (Note 4.)

Appointment as County Coroner

The following year, on December 11, 1799, Evans was recommended by the county court for appointment to the office of coroner. (Note 5.) The county court apparently followed a practice of submitting more than one name for the governor’s consideration and also recommended John Montgomery for the position. Also of interest is that Evans was serving as a county justice or magistrate at the time, and the order book reflects, as a formality, that he absented himself from the proceedings when the coroner recommendation came up for consideration.

Dec. 11. 1799 recommendation of Jesse Evans and John Montgomery as coroner (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

Dec. 11, 1799 recommendation of Jesse Evans and John Montgomery as coroner (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

June 11, 1801 entry recording bond to serve as coroner (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

June 11, 1801 entry recording bond to serve as coroner (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

The county’s records show that Evans obtained the appointment. On January 15, 1800, he “qualified to his commission as coroner.” (Note 6.) The records also show that, on June 11, 1801, he provided a bond as required by law. (Note 7.) Alexander Smyth joined with him in providing security for the bond.

How long Evans served as coroner hasn’t been established. References to his service as coroner may be buried in files of court cases but do not appear further in the Wythe County order books or in the surviving file of coroner’s reports. (Note 8.)

Excerpt of Aug. 14, 1804 bond to serve as sheriff (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 4, p. 271)

Excerpt of Aug. 14, 1804 bond to serve as sheriff (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 4, p. 271)

Wythe County Sheriff 1804-1805

Evans’s service as coroner was quickly followed by his appointment as sheriff of the county. His assumption of that office in 1804 is documented by his bond recorded in one of the county deed books. (Note 9.) The county court had initially recommended him for the position in July 1802, along with William Ward and Nathaniel Frisbie. (Note 10.)

At that time, a sheriff was responsible not only to make an effort to collect taxes owed by residents of the county but individually responsible to “pay the taxes imposed by law in the said county,” as stated in the bond. As a result, the amount of the bond was substantial—$30,000—and Evans prevailed upon nine of his friends and relatives to add their names as security, including James McCampbell, David Doak, John Doak, James Newell, and Alexander Smyth. (Note 11.)

Excerpt of Oct. 5, 1805 sheriff’s deed by Jesse Evans (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 4 p. 370)

Excerpt of Oct. 5, 1805 sheriff’s deed by Jesse Evans (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 4, p. 370)

Sept. 21, 1805 commission for reappointment as sheriff (Library of Virginia)

Sept. 21, 1805 commission for reappointment as sheriff (Library of Virginia)

As sheriff, one of Evans’s duties was to execute judgments by taking possession of the property of judgment debtors and selling to the highest bidder. The county’s deed books accordingly contain various deeds like the one pictured above in which he is listed as the grantor in his official capacity as sheriff.

Evans was reappointed as sheriff in 1805. The reappointment commission, signed by Lieutenant Governor John Guerrant, is in the collection of the Library of Virginia.

As noted above, a sheriff took on substantial personal liability to actually collect the taxes due in the county and to forward the money to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. A sheriff was assisted in his efforts by his deputies, and Evans had some earlier experience serving as a deputy sheriff for Montgomery County. Delegation of authority to a deputy was accompanied by the deputy’s assumption of his own personal liability for carrying out his obligations.

Letter from William Ward to William Davies (Chancery case folder 1806-06, Wythe County, Va.)

Letter from William Ward to William Davies (Chancery case folder 1806-06, Wythe County, Va.)

In one suit initiated about 1800 by John and Bridget Claxton, Evans was accused of impropriety in handling the property of an estate while he had been deputy sheriff of Montgomery County. (Note 12.) Some time prior to 1790, Martin Williams, a resident of the county, had been killed by Indians. The county directed Evans as a deputy sheriff to sell Williams’s property. According to Bridget Claxton, she was Williams’s wife at the time, and they had several children. According to Evans’s May 12, 1801 answer filed in the suit, no one had applied to administer the estate, and so he had been appointed and sold the property as required. Several depositions were taken, from which it appears that Bridget and her children had been taken prisoner when her husband was killed (which would explain the family’s absence after his death) and that, although Bridget eventually returned from captivity, her children did not make it back alive.

The amount of money at issue was not very great, but it isn’t apparent from the surviving documents how the matter was resolved. In May 1800, the court had referred the case to William Ward and William Davies to hear and resolve. The case file contains an undated letter from Ward to Davies which, for some reason, expresses doubt about their ability to make a determination:

I have attended the third time and think that it is improbable that the business which these papers concern will ever be settled by this mode of proceeding. You will please to inform Mr. Sheffey [the plaintiffs’ attorney] by sight of the papers that he may take such steps as he thinks proper for I am resolved to have no further concern about the business.

1808 authentication by governor of Tennessee of David McGavock’s answer (Chancery case folder 1811-07, Wythe County, Va.)

1808 authentication by governor of Tennessee, part of David McGavock’s answer (Chancery case folder 1811-07, Wythe County, Va.)

In 1811, Evans was still dealing with fallout from his service as Montgomery County deputy sheriff in 1789. Although the details that can be gleaned from file documents are murky, David McGavock had apparently claimed payment for his service as the county’s commissioner of revenue in 1789 and up to May 1, 1790, when Wythe County was established.

As deputy sheriff, Evans had some sort of obligation to make payments to McGavock but didn’t. McGavock obtained a judgment against Evans for what he believed he was owed, and, in 1807, Evans filed suit in Wythe County chancery court to stop execution against his property. (Note 13.) By 1808, McGavock was living in Davidson County (Nashville), Tennessee. He filed his answer, to which he swore before a Tennessee justice of the peace whose authority was, in turn, formally certified by the Tennessee governor.

Nov. 16, 1791 message from Jesse Evans to David McGavock (Chancery case folder 1811-07, Wythe County, Va.)

Nov. 16, 1791 message from Jesse Evans to David McGavock (Chancery case folder 1811-07, Wythe County, Va.)

The Wythe County chancery case against McGavock went on for four years and was finally dismissed in 1811, although the records don’t disclose how much Evans may have paid to settle the matter. A more personal aspect of the circumstances is shown by the accompanying document from 1791, in which Evans had communicated with McGavock about payment. Evans used as his messenger his son John, whom he calls “Jonney” in the note.

A series of court cases from 1805 to 1808 by Evans against one or more of his Wythe County deputy sheriffs shows some of the challenges of being a sheriff. (Note 14.) The surviving documents don’t tell the entire story, but it appears that William Armstrong served as one of Evans’s deputy sheriffs and failed to collect and pay various amounts. (Note 15.) One of the documents, a November 22, 1806 notice, states:

1806 jury verdict against William Armstrong (Common law case folder 1807-134, Wythe County, Va.)

1806 jury verdict against William Armstrong (Common law case folder 1807-134, Wythe County, Va.)

. . . I will move the sd. court to award judgment vs you for $12 for nonpayment of that sum due as a part of the county leavy to James Ward, former Sheriff of this county, which sum was allowed sd. Ward by the court of Wythe at [blank] term 1805 payable out of the then next court leavy, which you ought to have paid, as you und[ert]ook as my deputy to collect.

Evans won at least one jury verdict against William Armstrong, as shown in the document pictured here, but the multiplicity of cases in the court files suggest that he had difficulty in actually recouping what he was owed.

Although after 1800 Evans was no longer engaged in as much litigation as he had been as a younger man, he found himself in the role of defendant from time to time, as well as occasionally trying to recover money. (Note 16.) Two particular court cases in his later years in Wythe County, both in which he was defending himself, provide a fuller portrait of him as a person and as a businessman. The first case involved his ownership of a horse; the other involved his ownership of a slave.

Excerpt of 1805 bill of complaint by George Hiney against Jesse Evans (Augusta County, Va., Chancery case index number 1810-054, Library of Virginia)

Excerpt of 1805 bill of complaint by George Hiney against Jesse Evans (Chancery case index number 1810-054, Augusta Co., Va., Library of Virginia)

A Dispute about a Horse

In 1805, George Hiney of Rockingham County, represented by Daniel Sheffey, sued Evans in the Staunton Chancery District Court claiming that Evans had failed to pay for a horse purchased from Hiney in 1792, that is, 13 years earlier. (Note 17.) Evans, who was initially not represented by an attorney but later used the services of James McCampbell, filed his answer with the court on March 15, 1806. Later that year, Evans obtained the depositions of Peter Binkley, John Johnston, Garnett Smith, and Alexander Smyth to support his contentions. A deposition of William Kennerly was taken on Hiney’s behalf in Staunton in February 1807, and then, after considerable delay, depositions were taken there in September 1809 of John Rush and George Mallow. A trial was apparently held in 1810, out of which Hiney obtained a judgment against Evans for 72 pounds, plus interest on that amount for nearly 15 years. The many surviving case documents portray a web of business relationships.

1792 agreement for sale of horse (Augusta County, Va., Chancery case index number 1810-054, Library of Virginia)

1792 agreement for sale of horse (Chancery case index number 1810-054, Augusta Co., Va., Library of Virginia)

Hiney, who Sheffey described in his Bill of Complaint as an “unlettered German & unexperienced in the arts of designing men,” had traveled to Wythe County in 1792 and struck a bargain to sell Evans a stud horse. Although the two men had discussed a cash sale price of $200, Hiney agreed to the sale based instead on proceeds Evans was expecting to receive from a bond of Robert King and Joseph King of Pittsylvania County that Col. George Hancock was attempting to collect. Peter Binkley and George Oury acted as witnesses to the October 8, 1792 written agreement. In the Bill of Complaint filed 13 years later, Sheffey described Evans as having “oily & plausible manners.”

In the court case, Evans would claim that the horse turned out to be “disordered in his loins” and that Hiney knew it and committed fraud in the sale. The witnesses provided by the two parties offered opposing views on the horse’s condition.

Excerpt of 1806 answer of Jesse Evans (Augusta County, Va., Chancery case index number 1810-054, Library of Virginia)

Excerpt of 1806 answer of Jesse Evans (Chancery case index number 1810-054, Augusta Co., Va., Library of Virginia)

Having not received any money from Evans by March 1796, Hiney sent William Kennerly to request payment. Evans convinced Kennerly to accept payment in goods that Evans owned that were being stored in Richmond, and they signed documents to that effect—including an order by Evans addressed to Alexander Smyth to turn over goods to Kennerly. John Johnston and Garnett Smith acted as witnesses for this new transaction. Although Kennerly had planned to travel to Richmond to look at the goods, Hiney was to make it there sooner, so in December 1796 Kennerly executed an assignment to Hiney on the reverse side of the order.

The deposition of Alexander Smyth, which he obviously drafted himself, was obtained primarily to explain the goods in Richmond. It seems that Samuel Greenhow, a Richmond merchant, had sold his business to Henry Banks in about 1795. Banks, in turn, sold to Thomas Madison, Jesse Evans, and Smyth, collectively, a large inventory of Greenhow’s goods for £1950 along with some bonds of Henry Lee for £1350.

1796 order of Jesse Evans to provide goods to William Kennerly (Augusta County, Va., Chancery case index number 1810-054, Library of Virginia)

1796 order of Jesse Evans to provide goods to William Kennerly (Chancery case index number 1810-054, Augusta Co., Va., Library of Virginia)

The goods were a motley assortment of anvils, crucibles, brass kettles, medicines, law books and other books, linens, calicoes, shoe thread, hinges, cabinet hardware, smith and mechanics tools, surveyor’s chains, paints, pencils, compass needles, shoe buckles, buttons, straw hats, and other odds and ends.

The three buyers subsequently engaged in transactions with each other with respect to their purchase, with Evans obtaining Smyth’s one-third portion of the goods. As described by Smyth, Evans obtained the additional goods to convey to Thomas Herbert in partial payment for the land Evans was buying from Herbert at the time. (Note 18.) Herbert picked up three wagon loads of goods, some other goods were transported to John Johnston’s house in Wythe County, and the remaining goods were stored at Gamble’s lumber yard in Richmond. As of Smyth’s deposition in 1806, some goods still remained at the lumber yard, although a portion had been lost or destroyed in a fire there.

Alexander Smyth’s deposition testimony about the horse (Augusta County, Va., Chancery case index number 1810-054, Library of Virginia)

Alexander Smyth’s deposition testimony about the horse (Chancery case index number 1810-054, Augusta Co., Va., Library of Virginia)

Hiney took Evans’s order to Richmond during the winter of 1796-1797 and found Smyth, who was then serving as a Senator in the General Assembly. Smyth wrote that he “would have prefer’d being excused the performance of such a duty” as Evans had requested in the order. Nevertheless, he took Hiney to Gamble’s lumber yard, showed him the goods, and concluded that Hiney was not going to take any of them as payment of Evans’s debt.

In his 1806 deposition, Smyth also describes that in 1796 Evans had offered him the horse for £25. Although Smyth thought the horse “ill formed and seemed weak for his size,” he “thought the horse worth more” than £25. Nevertheless, he himself “would not have such property” and gave Evans an “evasive answer.”

Eight years after Hiney’s trip to Richmond and still not having received payment, he sued Evans. After the court found against Evans in 1810, an execution order was sent to Wythe County where the sheriff seized a wagon and eight horses owned by Evans to sell to satisfy the judgment. Evans and his son Joseph posted a bond to get the property back and—presumably—finally paid what was required by the execution sale date.

A Dispute about a Slave

Horses and slaves were two types of personal property that were taxable by the state and listed on the county’s tax lists. As described in Part VI, Evans owned 10 slaves and 5 horses in 1800. Although the Virginia schedules have been lost for the federal census taken in 1790 and 1800, Evans and his household are listed in the 1810 census, including his wife, son George W., daughters Elizabeth and Nancy, and 14 slaves. (Note 19.) That year, as evidenced from the execution on the Hiney judgment, he also owned at least eight horses.

Excerpt of 1810 U.S. Federal Census for Wythe County, Va., listing Jesse as head of household

Excerpt of 1810 U.S. Federal Census for Wythe County, Va., listing Jesse Evans, Sr., as head of household

About 1813, a Tennessean named Jacob Vanhooser (Van Hooser or Vanhoozer) sued Evans in the chancery court in Wythe County over a slave that both men had claimed to own. (Note 20.) Unlike the Hiney case, only the bill of complaint and Evans’s answer remain to tell the story. Like the Hiney case, however, Vanhooser was represented by Daniel Sheffey—which accounts for Hiney’s horse transaction being described once more. And, like the Hiney case, the underlying controversy dated back to 1792 and involved a promise by Evans based on his rights in the Robert and Joseph King bond.

Excerpt of Jacob Vanhooser’s bill of complaint against Jesse Evans (Chancery case folder 1815-22, Wythe County, Va.)

Excerpt of Jacob Vanhooser’s bill of complaint against Jesse Evans (Chancery case folder 1815-22, Wythe County, Va.)

Vanhooser claimed that during the Revolutionary War he owned a “Negro boy named Bob then between 10 & 15 years of age” who was taken from him by a plundering band who called themselves Whigs. He described that he reclaimed the slave after the war and possessed him until 1792, at which time Evans had forcibly taken him and had begun the return trip home. Vanhooser overtook Evans, who defended the slave by force, and Vanhooser was compelled to accept Evans’s terms: Evans would pay 50 pounds to be paid out of a bond of Robert King. Sheffey, writing on Vanhooser’s behalf, continued that he

has particularly heard that he had sold the same bond to an ignorant person named George Hiney & got a fine horse . . . .

Evans filed his answer in October 1814. The document doesn’t name his attorney, but the sophistication of some of the legal arguments leaves no doubt but that he obtained legal counsel in responding. According to Evans:

[D]uring the Revolutionary War a militia force marched from Virginia against the enemy and traitors in North Carolina. [Vanhooser] fought under the standard of the latter, and according to the usages of war allowed for [ ] rebels, the property of many of the traitors was taken and by the orders of a board on which sat those distinguished officers Col. Preston, Col. Wm. Campbell, and Col. Lynch, the property thus taken was sold . . . .

[Evans did] not know that the slave Bob, which was owned by him, was one of the slaves thus condemned, or that he ever belonged to the plaintiff; [Evans] purchased his slave Bob of Stephen Sanders, who had him from Thomas Quirk, or some other person. . . . [I]f Bob was one of the slaves sold by order of the said board . . . the purchasers took a good title, the proceedings of the said officers having been sanctioned, and rendered legal by a special act of the Assembly of the Virginia, and the sale was made at the lead mines in Wythe County about the year 1780.

[Evans] purchased his slave Bob . . . about 1781 . . . [who was then] stolen away and taken to that part of N Carolina which now composes Tennessee. A bill of indictment was formed against the plaintiff for feloniously stealing [the] slave; the Governor of Virginia by letter demanded the property of the Governor of the Territory S. of Ohio . . . & the Governor of that Territory gave an open letter to [Evans] to be used to show the justice and legality of his designs. [Evans] found his slave, seized, confined, and bore him off, sending word to Vanhooser of what he had done and that if he Vanhooser had a claim he should assert it. . . .

[Evans] had notified Vanhooser that he would stay at Major Looney’s [near Dodson’s Ford] and went there. In the night [Vanhooser] with about 18 armed men came there, and attempted to come into the house. [Evans] kept them out, but promised to come out in the morning; accordingly in the morning [Evans] went out armed; [Vanhooser], on being ordered by [Evans], grounded his arms, and after some conversation proposed that if [Evans] would deliver to him the slave & sue, [Vanhooser] would in any event pay all costs; [Evans] declined that proposal, told [Vanhooser] to sue him, and that if [Vanhooser] recovered [Evans] would have nothing to say but would not give up his slave then in his possession. [Vanhooser] had determined to do so as he said, & [Evans] asked him what he would take for the negro. It was finally agreed that [Evans] should allow [Vanhooser] 50 pounds out of a bond he had on one Joseph King & Robert King, and to furnish the bond or a copy; [Evans] treated with a rifle in his hand, & pistols at his side; [Vanhooser] treated unarmed. [Evans] meant not to be taken alive by [Vanhooser’s] posse, and entered into the compromise to avoid fatal extremities.

Upon [Evans’s] return home . . . he inquired into the legality of the proceedings of the board of officers, and was assured by Mr. McCorkle who had acted as receiver for the board that there was no danger, that [Evans’s] title was good. [Jesse], not having contracted freely, determined to pay Vanhooser nothing unless he recovered it by law . . . .

[Evans] therefore insists that as the obligation the plaintiff sues on was attained without consideration, and by duress, it is void . . . .

Excerpt of Oct. 17, 1814 answer filed by Jesse Evans (Chancery case folder 1815-22, Wythe County, Va.)

Excerpt of Oct. 17, 1814 answer filed by Jesse Evans (Chancery case folder 1815-22, Wythe County, Va.)

The final paragraph in Evans’s answer makes a telling point:

This respondent hopes that the plaintiff’s bill will only be considered evidence of the hatred against the patriots of the revolution entertained by its framers; a proof of their present disaffection to the cause of the Country . . . .

The case file contains no indication of how this matter was resolved, but that information might be found in the order books of the chancery court.

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