Justice wasn’t blind, but he was — fatally — asleep

On this day in 1793: Samuel Spencer, justice of the state supreme court, dies as a result of wounds inflicted by a turkey gobbler.

Spencer was sitting on the porch of his home near Wadesboro when he became sleepy and began to nod; his bobbing red cap apparently provoked the turkey to attack. The 59-year-old judge was thrown from his chair and suffered numerous scratches, which became fatally infected.


North Carolina’s First Female Lawyer

Tabitha Anne Holton was a 22-year-old woman who became North Carolina’s first female attorney after successfully passing the bar examination, alongside her brother, Samuel Melanchthon Holton, in 1878. Her success was published in both Northern and Southern newspapers and drew a variety of comments, including some about her appearance. She practiced with her brother in Yadkinville and conducted research for their firm. Tabitha Holton died of tuberculosis in 1886. She is buried at the Springfield Friends Church in High Point, North Carolina.

The following images are pulled from newspapers on Chronicling America:


The Charlotte Democrat
The Charlotte Democrat. (Charlotte, N.C.), 11 Jan. 1878. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.


The Memphis Daily Appeal
Memphis daily appeal. (Memphis, Tenn.), 26 Jan. 1878. Chronicling America: Historic


The Progressive Farmer
The progressive farmer. (Winston, N.C.), 23 June 1886. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.



NC court gives thumbs down to ‘rule of thumb’

“To illustrate the misogynous underpinnings of our society, analysts have referred to the ‘rule of thumb’ by which English and American law as recently as the 18th and 19th century reputedly upheld the right of a man to beat his wife with a rod, provided it was no thicker than his thumb….

“The rule was originally asserted in England by Judge Buller in 1783 — but English legal authorities challenged him and writers and cartoonists lampooned him.

“Some scholars have asserted that the rule of thumb became incorporated into American law…  and a ruling by the State Supreme Court of North Carolina is cited. However, closer inspection reveals that the court repudiated both the right of a husband to beat his wife and specifically the rule of thumb, even ridiculing the latter….
“Although the court did uphold the lower court’s ruling that the husband who had struck his wife with ‘three licks’ from a ‘switch about the size of one of his fingers’ had not violated the law, the judges emphasized that their grounds were ‘not that the husband has the right to whip his wife much or little; but that we will not interfere with family government in trifling cases.’ ”

— From “Handbook of the Sociology of Gender” by Janet Saltzman Chafetz (2006)

Part slave, part free — and completely entangled

“The legal complications encountered by families part slave and part free were nothing short of Byzantine, and in many cases Solomon himself would have been hard pressed to mete out justice.

“A slave named Miles took a slave wife in North Carolina. He was freed by his master and then purchased his wife, whom he in turn freed. One of their children was born when the mother was a slave, the others when she was free. When the mother died, Miles remarried a free woman of color by whom he had several more children.

“In 1857 Miles died intestate; the children of both mothers disputed the division of property. The North Carolina Supreme Court reasoned that the children of the first marriage had no claim to the estate since slaves could not make contracts that were legally binding. Thus Miles’s original marriage was a ‘fiction,’ the children not recognized as legal heirs. He had, in short, failed to legitimize the marriage once he and his wife had become free.”

— From “Selling Poor Steven” by Philip Burnham (American Heritage magazine, Feb/March 1993)