Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Rights of women & children in Spanish Natchez; the abused wife, child apprentice
- 2013 - 300 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- December 2009 - 147 articles
- November 2009 - 140 articles
- October 2009 - 168 articles
- September 2009 - 128 articles
- August 2009 - 109 articles
- July 2009 - 144 articles
- July 30th, 2009 (Thursday) - 16 articles
- July 29th, 2009 (Wednesday) - 14 articles
- July 23rd, 2009 (Thursday) - 11 articles
- July 22nd, 2009 (Wednesday) - 18 articles
- July 16th, 2009 (Thursday) - 23 articles
- July 15th, 2009 (Wednesday) - 14 articles
- July 9th, 2009 (Thursday) - 9 articles
- July 8th, 2009 (Wednesday) - 12 articles
- July 2nd, 2009 (Thursday) - 18 articles
- July 1st, 2009 (Wednesday) - 9 articles
- June 2009 - 106 articles
- May 2009 - 115 articles
- April 2009 - 157 articles
- March 2009 - 126 articles
- February 2009 - 132 articles
- January 2009 - 119 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|Rights of women & children in Spanish Natchez; the abused wife, child apprentice|
During the days of British rule of Natchez and West Florida -- 1763 through 1779 -- legal matters -- civil and criminal -- were heard in Pensacola, the capital of the province.
When the Spanish ruled from 1779 until 1798, there was a local justice system, one which for the most part was fair and provided legal avenues for women and children, two segments of society ignored for generations. According to historian Jack D.L. Holmes, "In criminal cases and in civil case where the amount exceeded twenty-five dollars, commandants examined witnesses, took depositions, collected evidence, and forwarded the case of New Orleans for decision by the governor-general" and other Spanish higher ups. A litigant could appeal his case all the way the Council of the Indies in Spain.
Local men were often appointed by officials to serve as arbitrators and fact-finders in Natchez court matters.
Said historian Louis Houck in 1908: "No code of procedure was ever devised more carefully safeguarding the rights of the individual in theory than the Spanish colonial code." However, Houck admitted that the legal process cost money and poor people then -- as today in the American system -- had a more difficult time securing civil and criminal justice than those with money.
These two cases to follow -- the first involving a woman's rights and the second a child's -- are found in May Wilson McBee's "The Natchez Court Records, 1767-1805."
CASE OF THE ABUSED WIFE
Women had few rights in the 18th Century, but one woman found a legal avenue available to escape from a deplorable domestic situation.
On June 25, 1794, Winifred Ryan filed suit against her husband. She had nine children -- three with her first husband, who apparently died, and six with her second and present husband, who she wanted to divorce. She also wanted the property, most of which, she said, was hers prior to the marriage.
Winifred said her spouse, William Ryan, had beaten her for years and verbally assaulted her on a regular basis. She was fed up, declaring that "for a long time" William Ryan had "treated her very ill and that she being advanced in years" could bear it no longer.
A friend, Sarah Purcions, described the day Winifred Ryan sought refuge at her home and "from her (Winifred's) appearance" Purcions thought Winifred's husband "had been whipping her," a suspicion Winifred later admitted to be fact.
Elizabeth and C.R. "Cady" Raby in a deposition also attested to the brutality of Winifred's husband.
Mrs. Raby "declared that about nine years ago she lived on the same plantation" with the Ryans and "heard Ryan beating his wife." Mrs. Raby "immediately ran over to Ryan's house and there saw a stick about the size of her thumb, both ends worn out, and she took up the stick and found that it was split open." She believed the stick had been "worn out" on the body of her friend, Winifred Ryan. Later, she saw "a number of bruises and swelled places" on Winifred, and realized she had "evidently been severely beaten."
No doubt, said Mrs. Raby, William Ryan "has led his wife a very unhappy life." Cady Raby backed up his wife's statement although he said he did not view "the marks on the woman."
About the same time depositions were being taken in the case, neighbors John and Thomas Wells were sent word Winifred needed help. On his arrival at the Ryan home place, Wells found "William Ryan very angry." Ryan was sarcastic, argumentative and resented that Wells' had come to see about Winifred.
Ryan told his wife to leave and she went with John Wells to his home for the night. John Wells observed Winifred "appeared that she was afraid to stay at home for fear of her husband."
Back at the Ryan farm, Thomas Wells said Ryan huffed and puffed and issued a warning. Ryan said that once he was alone with his wife "she should pay" for his embarrassment.
A few days later, Winifred Ryan reported that her husband had abandoned the family and she was barely able to make it with nine children. Before she married him, she said she had "considerable property" with her previous husband and their three children. But since her marriage to Ryan, Winifred said he had "disposed' of much of her personal property.
A PRUDENT, GOOD WOMAN
With her own money, Winifred said she had purchased 16 head of cattle, household furniture, one mare and a colt. She asked the court to divide the property between she and Ryan to avoid "confusion..in the future," and realized that it was "probable that the creditors will endeavor to secure what is left." She asked that her nine children be considered in the court ruling.
Richard and Patsy Trevillion testified they first knew Winifred in North Carolina 12 or 13 years earlier where she owned a tract of land, cattle, a horse and mare, hogs, two feather beds and household furniture. The couple thought Winifred "behaved herself like a prudent good woman and bore a good character so far as they knew."
Elizabeth Raby, who had witnessed the bruise marks on Winifred, said that 10 years earlier she had gone with her mother to the Ryan home "to purchase a feather bed," the only bed owned by the Ryan family by that time. Winifred Ryan sold the bed in exchange "for a cow and calf...to give milk for her sick children." Elizabeth Raby said William Ryan was there when the exchange was made and remained silent for the most part until asked if the deal suited him. He replied that "he had nothing to say to it."
A few days after Ryan's disappearance he returned to Natchez and told the court that he had left hoping that the separation would do the couple good. He hoped that his wife would miss "his industry" and "be brought to reflection and decide to live in peace with him."
He asked that he be allowed to return to the plantation to "raise a crop for the benefit of his creditors."
A number of men in the community, some quite influential, said they had known William Ryan for a number of years and found him to be "peaceable, inoffensive, industrious and loyal to this government, and obliging to his neighbors." It appears that some of the men who signed this document may have been among his creditors.
In the end, the court acknowledged that Winifred had provided proof of the ownership of livestock and personal property which she possessed prior to marrying Ryan, but ordered that the tract of land in William Ryan's name be "disposed of for the benefit of the creditors as they think most advantageous to them."
This order was signed by Gov. Manuel Gayoso.
CASE OF THE YOUNG APPRENTICE
In the 18th Century world, the death of the parents left children in a precarious situation. Often times, the oldest child became the parent and life wasn't measured as much in quality as in survival. First and foremost, the children had to eat and needed shelter.
In 1795, Ezra Marble testified in Natchez court that four years earlier his father died leaving no parent in the home of several small children. As the oldest Ezra "took charge of the family." Then, because there were a number of small children to feed, he "put some of them as apprentices at different places," including his young brother Stephen Marble.
Stephen was apprenticed to David Douglas on Cole's Creek, who, Ezra Marble maintained in his suit against Douglas, was to teach Stephen "the trade of a carpenter," and to teach him to read and write.
But Ezra maintained that four years later, his little brother Stephen had been taught nothing. He said Douglas "has entirely disregarded his obligation," having kept Stephen "for four years without teaching him..." Instead, Ezra said Douglas used Stephen "as a servant, washing dishes and milking cows," and had provided him no education. Ezra provided the court a list of names of seven men and one woman who backed his allegations.
But Douglas had his day in court, too. He called the charges "false" and said the allegations were "imaginary." He presented the court with a sample of Stephen's writing, while admitting that the "boy is very small and it is true that I have not made him work much at the carpenter's trade."
Learning to read and write first were more important, said Douglas, adding that the individuals who claimed he used Stephen simply as a servant "do not live near" his house. Douglas also believed that many who signed the document against him didn't know what they were signing.
For the previous four years, Douglas said he had fed and sheltered Stephen when the lad was "of no use to me." Now, he said, when Stephen "is able to make some return for the cost of his maintenance, they wish to take him from me." He said Stephen's brother, Ezra, wanted Stephen back to help "in the work in their swamp where he would learn nothing but to be a vagabond, without a trade, like the others of the family..."
The court ordered that Douglas bring Stephen to the Natchez fort where John Scott and Frederick Man, master carpenters at the post, and schoolmaster Valentine Dalton, would examine the youth's progress in reading and writing as well as in the carpentry trade. A short time later, the men notified the court that Stephen should remain with "his master." They reported that Ezra Marble's complaint against Douglas "was without foundation" after additional testimony was offered.
John Arden of Cole's Creek testified that Douglas "used Stephen Marble more like one of his own children than like a strange child both in the household and in schooling."
Williams Noble said he had been a neighbor of Douglas' for three years, knew Stephen Marble well and that Stephen "was well-used in every respect I think an apprentice ought to be used." He said Douglas had given Stephen "as much learning as he conveniently could which was as much as the other boys got."
Prosper King, also a neighbor, said the whole time Stephen Marble lived with Douglas "he was well used."
Just as the case was coming to a close, Douglas reported that Stephen had fled and was being "harbored by his brother." The court ordered that Ezra deliver Stephen in four days or Ezra would "be lodged in the prison of this fort and there remain until the boy is delivered to his master." When a representative of the court went to Ezra Marble's home to deliver the order, he learned that Ezra was on the Big Black although a brother said he would inform him of the court order on his return.
When the boy wasn't returned to Douglas, Ezra Marble was arrested and held in the stockade at the fort. Days later, when Stephen was being brought to the Douglas farm by one of his other brothers, they learned that Ezra had been released from the fort. The two boys turned around and raced home. Later it was reported that Stephen was living on the Big Black.
In the end, Stephen Marble returned to Douglas' farm, but there is no account of how things worked out.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|