Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Rights

But for marl.

I don’t know if I’m an Armwood or not, but (1) my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Henderson’s second wife, Louisa, was Henry Armwood’s cousin, (2) I’ve got a DNA match with one of Henry Armwood’s descendants, and (3) Inez Armwood Watson always said we were kin. Either way, I claim him just on the strength of the moxie he displayed when he, a tenant farmer, fought back against the landowner who sought to cheat him of his cotton.

Herring v. Armwood, 130 NC 177 (1902).

B.W. Herring filed this suit in Duplin County, North Carolina, to recover from William Henry Armwood two bales of cotton worth $81 that he alleged belonged to him. Armwood responded that the cotton was worth much more than $81 and that it was not Herring’s. Further, countered Armwood, he rented the farm on which the cotton was raised under this contract: “I, B.W. Herring, do hereby agree to rent my farm to Henry Armwood for the year of 1899 for five bales of cotton of the first picking, weighing five hundred pounds, or the equivalent in money. I do also agree to dig marl to the amount of two thousand bushels, more or less, and Henry Armwood agrees to haul the same and scatter on the land.” Armwood was to use the marl in lieu of commercial fertilizers to improve the land and increase crop yield. However, Herring refused to dig the marl, and Armwood’s crops suffered.

At trial, Herring testified that Armwood paid only three of five bales of cotton he owed in rent. Armwood took two more bales raised on the rented land to Ruffin Cameron’s to be ginned and those bales were seized. Herring’s testimony is somewhat confusingly recounted in the opinion, but he seems to assert that he did not agree to dig any marl for the 1899 crop, but that he used it as an experiment in 1898 on about 16 of the 40 acres he rented to Armwood.  Armwood countered: “It was agreed that the two thousand bushels of marl shoul dbe hauled on the crop for 1899. I lived on the plaintiff’s land in 1898, and hauled marl for 15 or 16 acres. The crops were increased by the use of the marl 50 to 75 per cent. I hauled the marl from Mr. Dan Lee Flowers. He had the bed, and furnished Mr. Faison Hicks, Mr. Ab Herring, Andrew Barfield, and others in the neighborhood. My crop was decreased by the failure to use the marl at least 50 per cent.” Herring objected to this testimony on the grounds that it was too remote, and the trial judge sustained the objection. Though Dan Lee Flowers testified in support of Armwood, the judge rendered a verdict and judgment for Herring. Armwood appealed.

The North Carolina Supreme Court neatly framed the issue: “The sole question involved in this appeal, when stripped of its technical paraphernalia, is whether an action for damages will lie for a breach of contract in failing to furnish fertilizers, whereby the yield of the crop was decreased, because such damage or failure in the yield will be too remote.” And decided: “… the conclusion is irresistible that a lessening in the yield would be the natural result of a failure to use the marl, if marl be beneficial to the growth and development of the crops, and that the lessened yield would be incidental to such breach, and therefore plaintiff would be liable.” Further, everybody knows that fertilizers increase yield and marl can greatly increase production. “… [i]f damages be recoverable for a breach of contract which decreased the yield, they can also be recovered for a breach of contract whereby the yield was not increased.” Armwood had a right to present his proof to the jury. Error in the lower court, and a new trial awarded.

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One thought on “But for marl.

  1. Pingback: No damages. | Scuffalong: Genealogy.

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