Trial Papers of Wyatt Harris, a free black man in Spartanburg accused of stealing an overcoat from Thomas Woodruff, 1842

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These two documents relate the court proceedings against Wyatt Harris, a free Negro, in the District of Spartanburg, South Carolina, on September 22, 1842. The first document outlines the charges filed against Wyatt Harris. Thomas Woodruff, the prosecuting attorney, issued a complaint that in the summer of 1840 his overcoat was stolen from his home. Mr. Woodruff alleges that Harris is in possession of said overcoat. The second document sets forth the proceedings of the court case, including the justices or “free holders” present to issue judgment on the issue at hand. Wyatt Harris and others provide their account of the events of 1840, regarding where and when the overcoat was obtained and by what means. No ruling is stated in the documents of the proceeding.


The State of South Carolina vs. Wyatt Harris, 22 September 1842. Trial Papers, Spartanburg District Court of Magistrates and Freeholders, (1824-1865). L 4211. Box 1, Folder 48. South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Columbia, South Carolina.


The State of South Carolina              To a Lawful constable or to Nathaniel Gentry
Spartanburg District

Before me personally came Thomas Woodruff Esq. and made complaint on (?) that in The Summer of 1840 was stolen from his dwelling house in said District an over coat and that he has great cause to believe that said coat is or has been in the possession of Wyatt Harris.

Sworn and subscribed
before me the 22nd Sept. 1842

L. Lawford Magst.

There are therefore to command you forthwith to the said Wyatt Harris and bring him before me or some other Justices sd. District that such future proceedings may be had therein as to law doth appertain.

Given under my hand and seal this 22nd Sept. 1842


                                                                    L. Lawford Magt - seal


The State v. Wyatt Harris, a free Negro         Stealing or having in his possession a stolen overcoat

   Thomas Woodruff, Prosecutor

                                   September 22nd 1842

Free Holders:  Robert Alexander

                      James Bragg

                      Joseph Wofford esq.

                      Willis Pearson

                      William Willis

Rogers Daniel says he bought an overcoat from Pilgrims. Douglas and sold it to Wyatt Harris says that he gave douglas a fiddle for it and that Wyatt gave him a pair of pantaloons and a pair of shoes for it. Says he did not tell Wyatt who he got the coat from. That he carried (?) the coat over to W. Stephens and there sold it to Wyatt, says the coat was of a dark colour. That he bought it of Douglas on Sunday night after meeting at Bethel meeting house. That he recurred it of Douglas near W. Pilgrims house.

Wyatt says he traded with Mrs. Roger Daniel for an overcoat. That Daniel told him he got the coat from his young Master. Robert says that he sold the coat to W. Harris (?) for ten dollars at Capt. Ralph Smiths in the presence of about 30 persons some of the W. Jennings and others

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3-4.4 Outline the course of the Civil War and South Carolina’s role in significant events, including the Secession Convention, the firing on Fort Sumter, the Union blockade of Charleston, and Sherman’s march through South Carolina. (H, G)

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Wyatt Harris Trial-Papers

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Lessons Using This Document:

Am I Really Free?


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