Stolen Slave

(Editor’s note: This is a reprint of the column “This and That” written by the late Bee King of Mendenhall which appeared in the Simpson County News on May 4, 1944.)

James Taylor settled near the mouth of Strong River about the time the county was organized. He owned a considerable number of slaves, and operated a large farm. One of his slaves, named Joe, was a great hunter. His master allowed him to carry a gun when he was hunting and Joe killed a number of deer, besides other wild animals. Joe also enjoyed killing panthers, though his master had warned him that they were too dangerous to hunt alone. Joe promised to quit hunting panthers but the temptation was too great so at last it resulted in Joe getting his face torn by a panther as Joe rushed toward it with his knife, after shooting it. Joe thought it was dead, but just as he stooped over to start sinning it, the panther struck him in the face with it forepaw. His face healed after a few weeks, but left a huge scar. Joe hated panthers after that and always killed them every time he had a chance, but he was always sure that they were dead before he went near them.

Joe was healthy and strong and really a valuable slave. He was quite a favorite with his master, and he thought his master was the greatest man in the world. One day in the spring of 1833, Joe disappeared. His master first thought he has been killed by some wild animal, and had the woods searched, but with no result. He finally decided that Joe had been stolen and offered a reward for him, and sent several men in search for him but no trace of him could be found. Taylor gave him up as lost and never expected to see him again.

That fall after the crops were gathered Taylor and Turner Wilson and a few neighbors went to New Orleans for several days and on several occasions attended the slave market. There the slaves would be placed on what was called the auction block, which was a kind of platform, and offered for sale, one at a time, to the highest bidder. Wilson had already bought a few slaves, but Taylor had bought none so he decided that before leaving the city he would attend the sale and perhaps buy a few slaves for himself. He and Wilson went together and were looking at the slaves before the auctions began when suddenly they heard a slave say, “Lordy, dere’s Marse Jim.” Taylor knew it was the voice of Joe and looked for the slave and immediately recognized Joe by the scar on his face.

He and Wilson at once went to the auctioneer and told him that Joe was a stolen slave and belonged to Taylor. The owner of the slaves was called, but he refused to deliver Joe to them. They at once told him that they would try the matter in court. The man said they would have to prove ownership before he would give them the slave, but agreed to deliver Joe to them upon giving their bond. He no doubt thought they could not do that, but they at once gave a cash bond and took Joe. He gave them the name of the man he had bought Joe from, and to their great surprise it was the name of one of the Taylor’s neighbors.

After some further talk the man agreed to give up Joe if they would pay him a small sum, and rather than wait for a trial, they paid him $120 and took Joe home. Taylor said nothing about how Joe had been stolen, although Joe told him all about how he was taken and gave the name of the same man given him by the man in New Orleans. A few weeks later an attempt was made on the life of Joe by the same man, but it so happened that some other men came up in time to see the attack made on Joe. When the sheriff went to arrest the fellow he was gone and his wife said he had been gone nearly a month. A few weeks later his family left the county and Taylor had not more trouble with him.