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Petition of Harriet Whitehead to the Circuit Superior Court, Southampton County, Virginia, 1847


                 To the Honorable, the Judge of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and chancery of Southampton County.


                 Humbly complaining shew to the Court your Complainant Harriet Whitehead—

That she is and ever has been a single woman and unmarried—That sometime about the year 1831, during the insurrection of the negroes in the County of Southampton, and whilst all near the scene of action were in the greatest possible state of excitement, the House of her friend and relative, with whom she resided, was attacked in the night by the negroes, and in the general and awful alarm consequent thereon, your Complainant succeeded in secreting herself, between some beds, whilst her sister and the entire remainder of the inmates of the house were murdered in a few feet of her, and it was only by the aid of some friendly negroes that she was enabled to escape the general slaughter.


                 That the fright and alarm produced by these causes so operated on the mind of your Complainant, that both her mind and body became weakened and greatly impaired thereby. That so powerful and overwhelming was the effect thus produced, that she became very depressed in spirits, weak in body and mind, hysterical and easily excited, and when in such a state of mind has resorted to stimulating medicines, drinks and the like, which have frequently rendered your Complainant unfit to enter into important contract or agreement—That this state of feelings and mind continued more or less until after the year 1843, and even now occasionally afflicts her.


                 That previous to November 1843, when under the influence of such a state of excitement and weakness, she would frequently become offended with her nearest relatives and friends, and be guilty of acts when excited by her fears, by her hysterical Disposition and stimulants, which she could only regret afterwards.


                 That sometime previous to November 1843 your Complainant had become indebted in some amounts, when she became acquainted with one Nathaniel Francis, a man as she afterwards learned, and as it afterwards became Known to her, notorious for his love of money and the means used to get it, and he seeing that your Complainant was possessed of a considerable estate, and that in consequence of her unfortunate state of mind, was a fit subject for him to defraud her of her estate; he accordingly set about to obtain it from her.


                 That the said Francis had previous to Nov. 1843, obtained some claim or claims amounting to $20 or $30, against your complainant which were not regularly assigned to him (the better to deceive her) upon which warrants were brought against your Complainant, in the name of the Original owners but for his benefit, and executions obtained thereon, which greatly excited the mind of your Complainant who was then housekeeping by herself, and whilst in such a state of mind, unfit to transact any business, the said Francis would visit your Complainant two or three times a week, under the garb of friendship to advise her.


                 That the said Francis taking advantage of your complainant’s fears, and weakness, whilst under much mental excitement, used means to excite envy and unfriendly feelings in your Complainant’s mind towards her relations, by saying and insinuating that they were her worst enemies that they would get all she had, that they would defraud her of her estate and the like and at the same time professing himself her greatest friend—


                 That the said Francis held out to your Complainant many advantages and inducements why she should give to him her whole estate, but not so readily agreeing to any such proposal, as suited the convenience of Francis, he procured friends of his—especially female ones, to use such persuasions and other means, and arts as they could command to work upon your complainant’s already diseased & exciteable [sic] mind, to induce her to believe in his professions of friendship and disinterestedness, and to induce your complainant to make to him a conveyance and enabled the said Francis to defraud your complainant as will presently be shewn.


                 That your complainant, whilst laboring under great excitement of mind and debility of body, and whilst excited on account of some debts she owed, and whilst being influenced and wrought upon by Francis and his aids, under the promise of support and good treatment the balance of her life, and by fraud, misrepresentation, and undue influence deceitfully exercised, she was induced to make to said Francis a Deed for her whole estate, as appears by a copy of the same dated 13 november 1843 and filed herewith as part of this Bill marked (A.).


                 That the said Deed thus made by her, if ever read to her she Knows not, as she was at the time laboring under great debility of body, and mind, but so it is the Deed as it now appears is different from what she was led to believe it would be—That Francis had the Deed prepared to suit his own wishes without consulting your complainant; and the better to deceive your complainant and accomplish his purpose your complainant was almost forced to leave her room, which she had been unable to leave for several weeks, and to go to the house of Francis’ friend a female who had used and then used all her influence to induce your complainant to make a Deed to Francis for her estate.


                 That the said Deed purports to be in consideration of natural love and affection and also of $800—whereas, as to natural love and affection she could have had none, as Francis was in no wise related to her, and as to the $800, she never received one cent of it, and if it was intended to cover such sum as Francis might pay for her, it was still fraudulent as he sold your complainants [sic] property or a part of it for that purpose—both of which considerations are entirely at variance with truth.


                 That the said Francis to make some show of honesty did execute a bond in the penalty of $1000, to support your complainant, of which she knew nothing till since then, when she also learned that Francis was advised to make the penalty larger, but refused, still shewing his fraudulent designs—which bond or a copy thereof is filed herewith marked (B.)—


                 Your complainant is advised and charges, that even if the Deed aforesaid were binding on her, still as the bond shews that the Deed was only in fact as security or as a Mortgage to indemnify Francis for what he might expend on your complainant’s account, that she is entitled to redeem her property by paying to Francis what amounts he may have expended for your Complainant and a reasonable sum for his services he paying for all property sold, accounting for the rents & hires of the estate named in said Deed—


                 Your Complainant also charges that she has not been decently and comfortably supported as she ought to have been and as the bond purports, but has been much neglected, & the property taken charge of by Francis and used by him.


                 Your complainant also charges that since she has determined to seek redress of Francis, he has threatened her with exposure to the church of which she is a member endeavoring thereby to overawe and frighten her into submission to his terms, as tho it were wrong for her to seek her just rights.


                 Your complainant charges that the said Deed was obtained by fraud, misrepresentation, undue influence and false promises, and whilst your Complainant was not capable to make a Deed, and therefore should be set aside entirely; and the property therein named restored to her; at most, she is advised, the said Francis has no more right under the Deed and bond aforesaid, than to receive what he may have expended for your complainant and a reasonable amount for his services; and that he the said Francis is accountable to your Complainant for all property sold, all rents of Land, and all hires of negroes and the interest on the same and your Complainant is willing to accept of the terms last named—


                 Your complainant calls on the said Francis to state clearly, unequivocally and without evasion, or reservation whatever the means used the friends or others who used their influence for him, and the reasons which he had, to obtain from your complainant the Deed aforesaid, and that he answer distinctly every charge herein.


                 In tender consideration whereof and for as much as your Complainant is without remedy save in a Court of Equity, where such matters are cognizable: to the End therefore she prays that the said Nathaniel Francis be made Defendant hereto, and be compelled to answer on his corporal oath all and every allegation herein and that too as particularly as if they were here again repeated and he thereto interrogated and that the prayer of your Complainant may be granted; that the Deed aforesaid may be set aside, and a commissioner of this Court be directed to ascertain the amount of sales made by said Francis of your Complainants property, of the rents and hires thereof, and also of what sums he may be entitled to for money’s [sic] paid or services rendered for your Complainant, and that such other and further relief may be granted as consists with Equity &c

                  [signed]                                    John R. Kilby p.q


RESULT: Granted.



Found in Loren Schweninger, ed., The Southern Debate over Slavery, vol. 2: Petitions to Southern County Courts, 1775-1867 (University of Illinois, 2008), 239-242.


Petition of Harriet Whitehead to the Circuit Superior Court of Southampton County, Virginia, 21 October 1847, in Chancery Court Papers, Harriet Whitehead v. Nathaniel Francis, box/drawer 58, entry folder 14-1851, LVA, Richmond PAR #21684701

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