June 01, 2011

Legal Lore: The Killing of a Master by His Servant

Fred L. Borch

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On January 23, 1746, “Eve, a Negro woman slave lately belonging to Peter Mountague” was found guilty of murdering her master. All that is known about Eve, her trial, and the horrific punishment meted out to her is contained in a two-page handwritten “memorandum” in the record books of the Clerk of Court, Orange County, Virginia.

Although Eve was accused of murder, Mountague’s status as her master made the homicide a more serious offense. The killing of a superior by a subordinate struck at the very heart of the hierarchical society that existed in England and had been transplanted to Virginia.

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