Rex v. charles hammond

Rex v. Charles Hammond

(1831)

 

Introduction

Slaveholding colonies throughout Britain’s American empire established slave courts from early on, creating separate judicial systems to try offenses committed by enslaved persons. Accused enslaved people were tried for offenses ranging from theft and murder to running away and “imagining the death of a white person.” With judges and juries composed of property-owning white men, most of them enslavers, these courts placed great emphasis on upholding social order and maintaining white supremacy and plantocracy. Enslaved people knew enslavers’ courts could not offer them true justice. Nonetheless, some enslaved people did make strategic and calculated use of their limited toehold in the judicial system to assert complaints and lay claim to rights.

In contexts where few documents created by enslaved people exist, those cases that record testimony from enslaved people offer a window into a social and political landscape otherwise largely inaccessible to historians. Enslaved people’s voices in these contexts are heavily mediated – court recorders likely abbreviated narratives or focused on points they thought were germane, and sometimes did not recognize slang, idioms, or foreign languages. Enslaved people, too, likely shaped the narrative they told to meet the moment – to account for events in a way that avoided or mitigated punishment for themselves or their loved ones, that would satisfy or meet the expectations of the court or their owner. Certainly, too, torture and coercion were a possible impetus to speak or tell a particular story. 

This particular case represents a relationship conflict between three enslaved people which, when it resulted in the death of Louis Ackman, an enslaved man, came to their enslavers’ attention. In brief, Letiticia Sinclair, an enslaved woman, had previously married and cohabited with Charles Hammond. When their relationship soured, Letiticia moved out and began dating and cohabiting with Louis Ackman. Hammond didn’t like that Letiticia had broken up with him, and continued trying to visit her and her parents. When Letiticia became pregnant, Hammond thought that it might be with his child, and tried to use this as reason to re-enter her life. On January 31, 1831, Hammond knocked on the door of Letiticia and Louis’s house, was met by Louis at the door, and began to attack Louis with a cutlass, an agricultural implement used in cutting sugar cane. 

In the testimony of enslaved people, there is clear dispute about the norms and cultural practices of marriage and divorce. Here, too, is dispute about the terms of determining paternity and fatherhood of the child. While Letitica’s testimony is clear about her prior intent to break things off with Charles, her parents testify in Charles’s favor, negating her own wishes and desires. Note, too, that witnesses in Hammond’s favor suggest he is acting under the influence of a powerful obeah man, using spiritual powers to compel Hammond to act against his best interests and internal morals. Even with Hammond accused for murder, Hammond’s enslaver and several of his agents appear in court to testify in glowing terms about his character and conduct. An enslaved person represented a substantial investment, the more so an enslaved man in good health. While the sentence of an enslaved person to death or transportation resulted in a compensation payment to the enslaver, these sums were capped at 100 pounds. It is likely that Hammond would have brought far more at the market. 

A theme which runs throughout this case is the consistent policing and lack of control Letitica Sinclair is able to exercise over her own body and her relationships. She attempts to assert agency through separating herself from a relationship that no longer suits her and seeking another partnership, but her ex-partner, her parents, and members of her community continue to contest and challenge her choice. As an enslaved woman, her enslaver already exercised substantial control over her physical and reproductive labor, and would assert ownership over her to-be-born child. In the context of 1831 Jamaica, nearly two decades after the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and with abolitionist campaigns gaining steam in metropolitan Britain, enslavers placed particular importance on growing their labor force through approaching pro-natalist policies and pressuring enslaved women to have children. While rape and sexual assault do not figure explicitly in the text, historians know well that enslaved women faced violent and regular assaults from enslavers and their agents, and it is likely that this was also part of Letitica’s experience. 

The location of this trial record, as an enclosure in a letter from Lord Belmore, Governor of Jamaica, to Viscount Goderich, former Prime Minister and then Colonial Secretary, also tells an important story. While the trial of Charles Hammond happened in St. George’s Parish, Jamaica, colonial officials in Spanish Town and metropolitan bureaucrats in London alike were reading the testimony and reviewing the actions of the slave court. In a context where the increasingly powerful abolitionist movement frequently likened the colonial justice system to foxes guarding a henhouse, the government scrutinized capital cases like these with particular interest. A notation on the bottom left of Belmore’s letter, directing the case file to the attention of “Mr. Stephen” also merits attention. James Stephen was a solicitor, gradual abolitionist, and long-time Colonial Office bureaucrat, who played a key role in writing ameliorationist and abolitionist laws and policies for the colonial government. He frequently corresponded with colonial governors and similar officials to push their efforts in more reformist directions. Here is one clue of how he learned about the state of slavery in the Caribbean and measured the impact of his efforts. 

Questions to consider:

  • How did the setting, context, and likely coercion shape the accounts of the event given by the different enslaved people called as witnesses in this case?
  • Why did enslavers and their agents appear in court to defend enslaved people like Charles Hammond? 
  • How do cases like this nuance our understanding of the meaning of law and legal institutions to enslaved people in the British empire?

Michael Becker

Further Reading
Sources
Cite this page
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire (October 4, 2022) Rex v. Charles Hammond. Retrieved from https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/.
"Rex v. Charles Hammond." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - October 4, 2022, https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire August 21, 2022 Rex v. Charles Hammond., viewed October 4, 2022,<https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/>
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Rex v. Charles Hammond. [Internet]. [Accessed October 4, 2022]. Available from: https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/
"Rex v. Charles Hammond." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Accessed October 4, 2022. https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/
"Rex v. Charles Hammond." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire [Online]. Available: https://slaverylawpower.org/rex-v-charles-hammond/. [Accessed: October 4, 2022]
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No. 46.

King’s House, Jamaica

12th May 1831

 

My Lord,

I have the honour to enclose for Your Lordship’s information Copies of the Indictment, Evidence produced, and the presiding Judges Notes taken at the Trial of a Slave in the Parish of Saint George named Charles Hammond who was capitally convicted of Murder and has since been executed.

I have the honor to be,

My Lord,

Your Lordship’s 

Most obedient

humble servant

 

Belmore

 

The Right Honorable

Viscount Goderich

&c. &c. &c.

 

[reverse folio 224]

Mr. Stephen

Referred to Mr. Stephen

20 Jul

Dispatch to Lord

Belmore July 1831.

 

[folio 226]

1942 Jamaica [illegible]

 

[Stamp: RECEIVED

JULY 18

1831]

 

Jamaica S.S. 

St. George’s }  At a Slave Court holden at the Court House at Buff Bay in the said parish of Saint George’s Wednesday the tenth day of April in the first year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord William the Fourth By the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King and of Jamaica Lord Defender of the Faith and so forth. And in the Year of our Lord one Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty One before the Honorable John Bell, Robert Gray Kirkland, and William Frances Espeut Esquires Three of His Majesty’s Justices assigned to keep the peace in and over the said parish also to hear and determine divers felonies trespasses and other misdemeanours in the said parish committed. And William Neil, John Sutherland, Samuel Aslaine Mann, John Hilton Maulsby, Thomas Leith, Alexander Bell, Edward Cooper Burgess, John Taylor, Alexander McPherran, Hugh Daley, Stephney Guthrie, and William Pilo Spencer, Twelve good and lawful men of the said parish as Jurors of the said Court being duly Sworn to try the matter before them and a true verdict give according to evidence pursuant to an Act of the Governor Council and Assembly of the said Island entitled “An Act for the subsistence clothing and the better regulation and Government of Slaves and for other purposes” a Negro man slave named Charles Hammond belonging to Dover Estate in the possession of James Sherton of said parish Esquire was brought to trial.

For that he the said Charles Hammond not having the Fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil on the thirty first…

 

[reverse folio 226]

…day of January in the first Year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord William the fourth with force and arms at the parish aforesaid in and upon one Louis Ackman a slave to same owner or possessor in the peace of God and our said Lord the King then and there being feloniously wilfully and of his malice aforethought did make an assault and that the said Charles Hammond with a certain Cutlass of the Value of six pence which he the said Charles Hammond in his right hand then and there held the said Louis Ackman in and upon the left side of the Belly and also on other parts of the body then and there feloniously wilfully and of his malice aforethought did strike and thrust giving to the said Louis Ackman then and there with the Cutlass aforesaid in and upon the left side of the belly one mortal wound of the length of Three Inches and depth of six inches and on divers other parts of the Body several mortal wounds of which said Mortal Wounds or Wound the said Louis Ackman on the said Thirty first day of January did die. And so the said Charles Hammond the said Louis Ackman in manner and form aforesaid feloniously wilfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder against the form of the act aforesaid and against the peace of our said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity.

  1. G. Graham.

D.C.S.

Plea

Not Guilty, J. Forsyth for prisoner

Evidence

 

[folio 227]

Evidence

 

Letitia Sinclair to Dover a slave a Christian, strictly cautioned and sworn

Eat my supper and then went to Bed, shortly after heard someone knock at the door asked who was there and is as answered by Louis Ackman, my husband, opened the door and let him in, and both went to bed. In my sleep, heard Lewis Ackman bawl out, “Lord me done Charles Hammond kill me” when I got up out of Bed saw Charles Hammond outside of the door and Louis Ackman inside the House. Every time Lewis Ackman tried to go out Charles Hammond as he was outside kept making a Cut at him and Chopping at him with the Cutlass he held in his hand after Charles saw me come out he left of Chopping him who dropped on the Ground after this all Lewis Ackman said “come ‘Good Lord” Charles Hammond said he wished he had brought his own cutlass. I said to Charles is it Louis Ackman own cutlass you take and damage him so he said “Yes I am sorry I did not bring up mine,” when we were talking Philip Tucker and Sam Haughton Came up and asked me whether Louis Ackman was I had bawled out for help before this but did not think I had been heard. I saw Louis Ackman drop down on his hand and roll down in the Bush. Philip Tucker and Sam Haughton went to call driver, by the time they came back Charles Hammond went away. I called John Dyer, and Sammy Sinclair to help me put Louis Ackman good. Charles told them to stand off or he would chop them the same. Charles Hammond and me been close before but we parted…

 

[ reverse folio 227]

…three weeks before Christmas. Louis Ackman died about as soon after he was chopped as since I have been here giving my evidence. I saw Charles Hammond Chop Louis Ackman twice with the Cutlass. Louis Ackman had not any thing to defend himself with, he fell and rolled over into the Bush and never got up till he died. I Don’t know, if they had any quarrel before then. Louis Ackman when he Came into me had left his Cutlass near the door inside of the House. This was the Cutlass Charles Hammond took to Chop and kill Louis Ackman with. Never heard Charles Hammond Threaten him. I never knew Charles Hammond to say he would watch for Louis Ackman going to my House. Louis Ackman never spoke after he fell. I asked Charles Hammond for the Cutlass he refused to give it up. Charles Hammond and me were not agreeing to live together again. I am only sure of his having slept in my father’s house once after we parted same House I lived but room door turned outside. The Bed of my room was close to the door where Louis Ackman left his Cutlass. It was known to every one I lived with Louis Ackman. Charles Hammond take me to Massa to complain of my leaving him. I have no education to reckon how long it was after this till Charles Hammond kill Louis Ackman.  from before Christmas I lived with Louis Ackman. When I got up first before laying down I drew Louis Ackman Cutlass more out of the way from where he first put it. The whole room was scattered…

 

[folio 228]

…over with Blood. My child is not Charles Hammond’s. I had two Months Belly and Charles [illegible] till it come to [illegible] the man it was for do nothing for it. I know the Bloody frock  produced. It was that Louis Ackman had on when Charles Hammond Chopped him there is a Chop and a stab on it that is the Cutlass with which Charles Hammond killed Louis Ackman. I called on Charles Hammond once since we parted and he gave me my own Blanket and a bead. We had no Conversation together about our coming together again. I asked Charles Hammond for the Cutlass to take it and put down he refused me quite quietly.

Philip Tucker, a slave to Dover, a Christian

Strictly cautioned, and Sworn.

Heard a person bawling in his sleep, jumped up and went to Letitia’s House and saw Charles Hammond marching in the pass with a Cutlass backwards and forwards near to Letitia’s House. I asked her what was the matter she did not speak. Was going away when I heard somebody Goraning turned back with Sam Haughton whom I met and found Louis Ackman laying down on the grass close to the frequented side near to Letitia’s House. I told Sam to let us go and call head man. I was afraid to take Charles Hammond as he had a Cutlass in his hand. I heard Charles say, “his own cutlass verse the fellow I wish I had my Cutlass here I would make him know boy from man.” I was near enough to him to see that this is the same Cutlass he had in his hand. Charles told us “take the fellow away” he said “his own Cutlass vers himself”. He was talking…

 

[reverse folio 228]

…to himself when I was going away. Charles Hammond was saying to Letitia, hush my dear Letitia, told her must not bother her go away.

Sam Haughton, a slave to Dover, a Christian.

Strictly cautioned and sworn.

I heard a person bawling out in the night and jumped up, met Philip Tucker going before me he said he heard the bawling when we were going along. We heard a grunting and on examining found Louis Ackman. Philip Tucker said he must go and call Tommy Sinclair. Saw Charles Hammond in the pass walking backwards and forwards saying “see what Your own cutlass has served him. I wish I had my own Cutlass I would show You man from Boy this night I was telling you long time now you have got what you want. Long time you wouldn’t believe me. This lead on my neck. I was aim for you with this bead all night.” He was talking to Lewis Ackman the man he had killed. I went away and called head man T. Sinclair when we came back, Charles was gone. I was afraid to take him myself. I saw he had a Cutlass in his hand did not see him standing nigh Louis he stood in the middle between the two Houses – Leticia’s and our House. I have often heard Charles say he did not wish to have any chat with Louis as Louis had shewn him different places where to travel. I have heard Charles Hammond tell about Lewis Ackman taking Letitia. I am quite sure I heard Charles Hammond say all I have related he did Charles Hammond made offer several times to go back to the Girl but she would not let him. 

 

[ folio 229]

Charles and Letitia parted two months before Christmas.

Philip Tucker, called back.

Heard Charles Hammond say he had been waiting his [illegible] for the fellow all night and caught the fellow now.”

Hugh Crook, Overseer of Dover, Sworn

I was called up and told up the driver Charles Hammond had murdered Louis Ackman. I ordered him to tell the head driver to take Charles Hammond. I went to where Lewis Ackman lay and found him laying on the Ground not quite dead. I proceeded to examine him and found him very dreadfully wounded his right arm was nearly cut off. I shook him and ask him what was the matter but he was speechless he had several otherWounds on his body, they were Cuts and Stabs one went through under his left arm close under the armpit one went through and through between his backbone and the skin. There as three different cuts on his Knuckles, his right leg and thigh cut in several places, dreadful gashes. I asked Charles Hammond after he was apprehended if it was he had committed the murder of Louis Ackman he admitted he had done it but what it was made him do it he said he was a little boy that couldn’t think of doing a thing of the Kind without somebody worked on him. It appeared to me he had some notions of Obeah compelling on to the deed. He seemed penitent for having done it. I never knew Lewis Ackman and him to quarrel he said “anybody say Louis Ackman had done too much.” It was a…

 

[reverse folio 229]

…bad woman make him do it.” Louis Ackman was considered a peaceable and very confidential man one of the most serviceable on the Estate and much respected by the other Negroes. It was a moonlight night.

 

In defence.

Grace Dyer a slave to Dover a Christian (mother of Letitia) strictly cautioned and sworn.

Letitia Sinclair lived with Charles Hammond for two Years. She left him before last Christmas. He never came to Letitia. Charles wanted to make up but Letitia would not agree. When Charles Hammond came where me do, me give him to eat. Letitia never go to Hammond he never call at my house when she at home.

Robert Waller a slave to Dover a Christian. Strictly cautioned and sworn.

Father of Letitia. Lived in same House with her Letitia told me she drive away Charles. I quarrelled with her for doing it sometimes he Came to my house to play with his Child he never sleep there one night.

John James, merchant sworn.

Formerly had prisoner under his Charge. Considered him a most peaceable Negro did not ever think he would kill a pale cherub.

John Clark, planter, sworn.

Formerly had prisoner under his charge and considered a very peaceable good negro.

 

[folio 230]

James Shelton, proprietor of prisoner Sworn.

Has highly approved of the prisoner’s conduct on the Estate, he had not a higher opinion of any negro on it knew him to be an excellent son to a deceased mother.

N.B. Notice of trial in due time sworn to before Trial commenced.

 

Verdict

The Jurors find the prisoner Guilty. Valued at 74.

By William Neil, Foreman.

 

Sentence

Jamaica SS.

Saint George.}  Whereas the Jurors within named by their foreman have found the within named Charles Hammond Guilty of the foregoing indictment we the Justice within mentioned do Order adjudge and determine that the said Charles Hammond be taken from hence to the place from whence he came and from thence at such time and place as His Excellency the Governor may appoint to be taken to the place of execution there to be hanged by the neck until he be dead, dead, dead. Given under Our hands and seals at Arms this 6 day of April 1831.

 

Signed John Bell L.S.

  1. G. Kirkland L.S.
  2. F. Espeut L.S.

 

Jamaica SS

Saint George } I do certify that the foregoing eleven sides of writing and that part of a twelfth side of writing are a true copy of the Indictment Evidence Verdict and Sentence in the proceedings had on the Trial of Charles…

 

[reverse folio 230]

…Charles Hammond for the murder of Louis Ackman both slaves to James Sherton Esquire. Given under my hand and seal the 8 day of April 1831.

(signed)  John Bell L.S.

EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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