Cartway Dispute Near Leasburg
In the 1840s, James Lea and his wife Susan lived in Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina. The village of Leasburg is very near the dividing line between Caswell County and Person County, the latter having been formed from Caswell in 1792. Like some other Leasburg residents, the Leas owned property in Person County. A parcel (described as a plantation) owned by James and Susan Lea was about a mile and one-half from Leasburg as the crow flies. Through this Person County parcel ran Cobb's Creek, and the Leas owned and operated a public mill there using the waters of Cobb's Creek as a source of power. The mill building itself was about two miles from Leasburg.
For many years the Leas had gained access to the mill by using a cart and wagon trail that ran across Person County land owned by John Johnson. However, John Johnson eventually objected to the use of his land as an access way to the Lea's mill (and plantation) and blocked entrance to his property. This caused the Leas to travel a circuitous route to the mill, described by them as: taking "the Roxboro Road into Person County about a half mile, and then along the Goshen Road in Person County about three miles, and then a crossroad to the mill about a mile, making in all four and one-half miles." And, it was even farther to the main part of the plantation. Some of this route was over "bad" ground.
The Lea's believed Johnson's blocking the old cartway was contrary to law and sued in County Court asking that a formal cartway be established along the path that crossed the land of John Johnson, thus greatly reducing the distance to their mill and plantation. The Leas argued that establishing a formal cartway would not only be convenient for them, but also would make it more convenient for residents of Leasburg to reach the mill (presumably as customers). There was legal precedent for establishing a cartway, which was between a private path and a public road. However, the Caswell County court denied the cartway request and dismissed the case. The Leas appealed to the Caswell County Superior Court, which reversed the lower County Court and ordered the establishment of a cartway across the land of John Johnson. Mr. Johnson was not pleased with this turn of events, and appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Speaking for the entire court, Justice Pearson in the case of Lea v. Johnson, 31 N.C. 15 (1848) reversed the lower Superior Court decision, thus denying the cartway requested by the Leas:
"However convenient it may be, in many instances, to have a cartway, when it may not be necessary to establish a public road, we are unable, by the most liberal construction of the act, to find any authority given to the courts to have the land of the citizens taken without the consent of the owner for the purpose of a cartway, except in the instance expressly provided for:
"'If any person shall be settled upon or cultivating any land to which there is no public road leading and no way to get to and from the same other than by crossing other persons' lands.'"
However, in this case there admittedly was a public road leading to the Person County mill and plantation of the Leas. Thus, because the Leas had access to their mill and plantation over public roads no cartway could be created even if the use of such would be more convenient for them. The law did not allow in this case the land of one man to be taken for the use of another. In the absence of such provision the Leas were left to depend upon the courtesy of good neighborship (which had been denied by John Johnson), to purchase the property outright, or to pay for a right of way.
Before the Supreme Court E. G. Reade represented James and Susan Lea; Kerr and Norwood represented John Johnson.