The following is a transcription of a letter found behind a wall in the "Old House" at Hycotee, Semora, NC, and given to me by Yancey Moorefield Smith. While the circumstances of the suit mentioned are still unknown to me, the letter gives a flavor of the legal practices of the time. Any knowledge of the suit or the witnesses involved would be thankfully received.
Transcribed by John Douglas Storey, great-great-grandson of Richard Ivy Smith June 6, 2010.
Spartanburgh (sic) C H
11 March 1843
Mr. Richard I. Smith1
Sir I have sent you by the mail that will bring you this the Commissions which you desired together with the interrogations which are to be put to each witness. I delayed sending them owing to the fact that I did not for some time get the Bill of sale which Richard Alexander Smith2 was to send me. I however got it by mail and have seen S. G. Hamilton. He acknowledged that he witnessed the Bill of sale and transacted business with your brother John3 on the day he executed the bill of sale to you. But he was not as free to admit that your Brother was of sound mind on that day as I desired he should have been. I have a Commission issued for taking his and Paul Young's testimony & intend to go up to Rutherford with the commissions & see to the examination & will then question Young before he is examined. I am in hopes to get sufficient from him to establish the fact that John was capable to have his own business & therefore capable to have made the Bill of Sale. Our courts have been newly arranged & our court will come on the 3rd Monday after the 4th Monday in March (illegible word) that will be on the 17th April next at which time I hope you will attend. I wish the Commissioners to be very particular to follow the directions given them in the Commissions when they go to execute them. For the purpose of assisting them I have folded a paper & backed it so as to show them how they ought to back the paper which encloses the Commissions & interrogations. They are required to endorse on the back of each Commission that the execution of the Commission appears in the schedule thereunto annexed & they should then sign their names to it. I have written (illegible word struck through) marked one of the Commissions (illegible) at the place where they should be endorsed under which they will sign their names. In taking the examinations of the witnesses it will not be necessary for the witnesses to whom you have paid monies to (sic) for John to file the original papers it will only be necessary that they swear that you paid them such amounts to them (sic) for John, stating the claims upon which you paid them, Except that John had better file the receipt you gave him for the debt you held on him with the statement of the debts. & he should swear that this was the consideration paid him by you for the negroes, & that the paper filed was the one you gave him on the day you traded. It will be the safest for you to get some disinterested individual to receive the Commissions from one of the Commissioners and to bring them on to the Clerk of our Court - if you do so that individual must keep the Commissions in his possession until he delivers them to the Clerk of our Court - and the Commissioner will certify that as Commissioner he handed the Commissions to (blank space) immediately upon its being executed and signed thus as Commissioner. I have got the Jailor to give me up the negroes to keep for him until the suit is tried. He had put them in jail and refused to liberate them unless I could take them & give him a Bond to deliver them to him when called for which I did. The negroes are all well except Billy who has been quite unwell for about 2 weeks with pains in his hip. - You will see that there is no cross interrogation The reason is that the opposite Lawyer neglected to make his appearance & I got the advantage of him which I was determined to make use of - as I feel it is not only my privilege but my duty to take all advantage of him in so unrighteous a Cause as he has.
Yours H H (?) Thomson4
1 Richard Ivy Smith (February 16, 1800 - July 28, 1871), planter and businessman, he lived at "Hycotee," near Semora, Caswell County, NC. Son of Samuel and Elizabeth Harrison Smith.
2 Alexander Smith (September 25, 1804 - November 19, 1857), younger brother of Richard Ivy Smith.
3 John Smith (May 1, 1797 - ????), older brother of Richard Ivy Smith. John Lived in Rutherford County, NC, for a while.
4 Probably Henry H. Thomson, well-known lawyer of the time in Spartanburg, SC.