A BRACE OF SIDE-SPLITTERS, BY “QUID RIDES”
“CORNERTOWN,” March, 1860.
Dear “Spirit.”—That fellow Andrews, about whom I told you in my last reminiscence, made his escape from our jail after his conviction, and before his sentence to penitentiary, through means furnished him by that female divinity! The next we heard of him he was convicted of some felony in the city of Buffalo, N.Y., and was sent for a long term of years to Auburn. On the expiration of his service at Auburn he returned to our town, and forthwith commenced some of his old operations for one of which he was committed to jail, and while there was recognized and identified by one of our lawyers as the veritable Andrews now under conviction for an old crime. On this fact being declared and made known, the aforesaid Andrews first fell into a weakness, then into a sadness, then into a madness, and really conducted himself like a confirmed lunatic, and absolutely so imposed upon the court by his ravings, foamings, and outrageous action, that they called a jury “de lunatico inquirendo.” Before the jury the fellow “out-heroded herod,” and accordingly the jury brought in a verdict that he was not insane but was only playing possum. After he was returned to jail he sent for me, who had been the Prosecuting Attorney when he was convicted, and says he, “Well, Judge, I am played out. I did think I could get a chance of going to the Lunatic Asylum instead of the Penitentiary, but you found me out—sich is life.” He was sentenced, and is now in Penitentiary. What has become of the angel, his wife, I know not.
Here is another old Court House reminiscence.
There was an important trial of murder in the first degree going on—the case of the State vs. Wm. Perkins, a negro, indicted for killing with a butcher knife a fellow negro, in a slaughter house, while they were both engaged in killing and scalding and scraping hogs. Many witnesses had been examined by the State, and the Prosecuting Attorney called upon one Geo. Washinton.
Answering this summons an old grey-headed darkey, looking very consequential and very wise, stepped forward to the witness stand. He narrated in his peculiar style many circumstances of the homicide, as he saw and understood them, and finally was handed over for cross-examination, which thus began:
Lawyer—Are you George Washington?
Witness—Dat’s de ‘nomination I goes by.
Lawyer—Are you Gen. Geo. Washington?
Witness—De general! I bars dat. I’s no general, dough some ob de colored folks does call me Maje sometimes ; but I’s no milingtary man ; I doesn’t belongs to the malitions, dough I sees no ‘jection to take a drink ob—ob—cider wid dem wen dey ax me.
Lawyer—How came you by the name of Geo. Washington?
Witness—Well, I ‘spose, boss, I got him from my fadder and modder in old Verginny. I didn’t steal em.
Lawyer—Are you a descendant of the great Geo. Washington, the Father of his country?
Witness—Why, boss, dat am a hard question to ‘spond to, but I ‘spose I is! I spec, if he am de fadder of his country, he must hab been de fadder ob all de people in it—de white trash and de niggas too! and as I ‘longs to de latter class, I ‘spose I is a lineral descendent in de female line from de ole cock.
Of course this caused great laughter in the court room—jurors, lawyers, and judges, could not restrain, and effectually stopped further cross-examination ex nomine. But quite a long examination ensued on the facts of the transaction ; and as it was the chief object of the lawyer to reduce the crime of his client from murder in the first degree to that of the second degree, to show that there was a total absence of deliberation and premeditation in the act, the cross-examination concluded as follows—
Lawyer—So you saw Perkins hurl the knife across the table into the body of the deceased?
Witness—Yes, Massa, dat am a fac ; he hurl him mighty strong, too.
Lawyer—Well, what time elapsed when the insult was given before Perkins hurled the knife across the table?
Witness—Well, dat am a mighty nice question. I carries no watch. I’s got no time piece ; and, boss, ‘spose I done got a watch, does you tink dat I’s sich a darn’d fool as to take dat watch ‘mongst dose black niggas dat war in dat slaughter house. No sar-ee! Don’t fool dis chile dat way!
Lawyer—Don’t be so smart, Mr. Washington ; I ask you not for the precise time, but what do you think was the length of time between the words used by the deceased and Perkins’ throwing the knife.
Witness—Why, Massa, to tell de fac, if you wants my ‘pinion I gib it you. De time dat ‘lapse ‘tween de dead man’s say and dat murdering Perkins trowing dat big butcher knife which done kill de dead man was plenty time enuff for dat cussed nigga to demeditate and preliberate. Dat’s just wat I tink, and I hope him will be hanged.
Here the laugh was boisterous, and the cross-examination forthwith ceased, for the lawyer plainly discerned that it was quite useless for him to try to elicit further information on his side of the case from that witness.
A “good ‘un” to conclude. The other day two artists and a poet were in a picture store examining the portrait of a celebrated dentist of our town, painted by their brother artist Beard. The portrait was much admired, but one of the company remarked that Beard had made the face of the dentist too serious and melancholy-looking.
“That’s no fault,” cried the poet, “that’s perfectly right, for you know the whole occupation of the doctor’s life is looking down in the mouth! ”
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 30.9 (7 April 1860): 98. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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