1833: A 13-year-old slave girl

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

On Tuesday, the 23rd inst., Harriet, slave of JAMES H. SHEPPERD, JR., aged about 13 years, was convicted of the murder, by drowning, of a son of ALEXANDER McKENZIE, Esq., of Hardeman county; she was sentenced to be hung on the 23rd of August. The boy deceased, was aged about 5 years, and was drowned in a common flour barrel fixed in a spring near the residence of his father. (Source)

On this date in 1833, a thirteen-year-old slave girl was hanged for murder in Bolivar, Tennessee.

The teenager, called Harriet, belonged to James H. Shepperd, Jr. On some unspecified date, she drowned a five-year-old boy, the son of Alexander McKenzie, in a flour barrel near his home in Hardeman County.

A local news account noted, “The circumstances as detailed by the witnesses on the trial, show the transaction to have been one of the most wanton and aggravated murders, perhaps ever committed by a female so young, and created considerable excitement in the minds of a virtuous community.” Harriet was convicted on July 23 and executed exactly a month later.

Harriet was the youngest female ever legally executed in Tennessee. She was not, however, the youngest person in the state to meet with that fate. That honor goes to twelve-year-old Jesse Ward, also a slave, who was hanged for arson in Knoxville in 1809. He burned down his master’s house and several barns because he was angry at being whipped.

On this day..

3 thoughts on “1833: A 13-year-old slave girl

  1. Shame on anyone who would insinuate that an executed 13-year-old child of any race is “getting what she deserved.” Much less a 13-year-old slave, a CHILD in bondage, living under horrific conditions in a white supremacist society that placed zero value on her life to begin with.

    RIP to Harriet, RIP to the five-year-old child – and to 12-year-old Jesse Ward.

  2. RIP to the five year old murdered and shame on JCF to infer that her death was a sham perpetuated by the white community. Perhaps she got what she deserved

  3. “The circumstances as detailed by the witnesses on the trial”

    Witnesses on (to) the trial, OK. Witnesses TO the crime (if it was a crime, not just an accident, for which Harriet was held responsible), I doubt it.

    RIP, Harriet (and Jesse).

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