Peddler found no relief in antebellum justice

“A Yankee peddler [was] usually regarded with deep suspicion. (He might be an abolitionist spy “tampering” with the slaves.)….

“In 1839 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, one Charles Fife from Connecticut was suspected of trading with blacks. The offense could not be proved in court, so some young men of the village gave him a pole ride through town, follow by the tar-and-feather ritual. When the peddler, claiming innocence, refused to leave town, the rowdies repeated the ceremony the next Sunday.

“Fife then sued his enemies before Judge John L. Bailey, a young planter, but in the midst of the proceedings the ruffians leaped on the plaintiff and his lawyer and beat them up before the bench. Judge Bailey acquitted the defendants and fined Fife  $100 — without evidence or prior indictment — for trading with Negroes. Fife, at last, left town.”

— From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007) 

 

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