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1786: Tom, “faithful, industrious, healthy slave”

August 9th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On August 9, 1786, in the state of Franklin (in what is now eastern Tennessee), a black slave named Tom was hanged for murder.

Tom had poisoned John Fuller Lain, a white man. The circumstances of the murder and Tom’s motive for it have been lost to history; all we know is that Lain was not his owner. Tom’s owner, William Evans, actually hired counsel to defend him, but the court refused to hear it.

Tom was imprisoned in July of that year, tried and convicted on August 8 and put to death the next day.

Aptly for a man of Franklin, Evans was concerned about the Benjamins. He filed a lawsuit against the sheriff for wrongful destruction of his personal property, but this was dismissed. Doggedly, on May 2, 1799 — nearly thirteen years after Tom’s death — Evans petitioned the General Assembly asking to be reimbursed for the value of the dead man, whom he described as “faithful, industrious, healthy slave … in the prime of life.”

Edwards reckoned Tom was worth £100. A hundred people signed the petition, but the General Assembly — by now the Tennessee General Assembly, since “Franklin” had failed as an independent entity — refused to cough up the funds.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,State of Franklin,Tennessee,USA

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3 thoughts on “1786: Tom, “faithful, industrious, healthy slave””

  1. Claude Lane says:

    John Fuller Lain (Lane) was my ggggg grandfather. The story that was passed down in the family was that he was poisoned by one of his own female slaves, putting scorpion venom in his drinking water, because he was working her too hard. Finding out about Tom from this site only a few weeks ago has been quite a revelation. Was William Evan’s Tom a scapegoat?

    1. Meaghan says:

      However he died, Lain definitely was not poisoned in the manner you describe. Scorpion venom is harmless when swallowed; it’s only toxic if injected directly into the bloodstream. So even if you could somehow “milk” enough venom and put it in someone’s food or drink (something that sounds difficult to do, to say the least), your intended target wouldn’t die.

      1. Claude Lane says:

        The issue for me isn’t the type of poison used, but why was his family telling the story in the way they did– his own female slave? In the inventory made of his estate after he died intestate includes mention of a male slave, Gabe, and a 27 year old woman named Fan, an infant Peter and a 3 year old Tom. Was little Tom big Tom’s son? Were Fan and Tom a couple, and was JFL threatening that relationship? Was Mrs. Lane involved (Elizabeth Cloud Lane)?

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