Saturday, January 2, 2016

Slave Marriage

Earlier on this blog we published the story of the lynching of Allen Butler, a black man, and the resulting controversy between his heirs.  Note that the Robinson Constitution of the day ignores the way Allen died but does mention the Supreme Court case.  (If you would like to read the original posts, use the search button on the left of the blog page, and search for Allen Butler.)

Robinson Constitution MAY 27, 1896
The Supreme Court of Illinois, in an opinion filed last week in the case of Mariah Butler et al. vs John H. Butler et al., appeal from Lawrence county, holds that slave marriages, one or both of the two contracting parties being slaves, are of no binding force, and may be repudiated by either party there to.

In 1841 Allen Butler, a slave, was married to Mary Ann House, a free negro woman in Maryland, according to the laws of that state. They lived together there as husband and wife for ten years, four children being born to them, two of whom, viz., John H. Butler and Catherine Brooks, are appellees in this case.

In 1854 Allen Butler having previously acquired his freedom, married Mariah Conway, a free negro woman, in the state of Ohio, according to the marriage laws of that state. Butler and his second wife lived together fourteen years, during which time two sons, William D. Butler and Oscar Butler, appellants in this case, were born to them. In July 1893, Allen Butler died intestate in Lawrence County, and at the time of his death was possessed of certain lands in that county. The heirs by both marriages claimed the right of inheritance to the lands, and brought suit on the chancery side of the Lawrence County Circuit Court to establish their rights. Here the heirs by the first marriage were held to be lawful heirs, the marriage while Butler was a slave being upheld.

The heirs by the second marriage appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded the decision of the court below, holding the slave marriage of no effect, and the heirs by the second marriage the true legal heirs. Bradbury & MacHatton of this city and McGaughey of Lawrenceville were the attorneys for the heirs of the first marriage, and Gee & Barnes of Lawrenceville for the heirs by the second marriage.