John Jones v. James Mills, 13 NC 540 (1830).
Jones sued Mills in Jones County Court for “seducing” two apprentices from him. Jones produced evidence of his indentures of the boys, and Mills countered with proof that Jones had not properly executed bond, as required by law, not to remove the apprentices out of the county. The trial judge charged the jury that Jones had indentured the boys and taken care of them, and Mills, a stranger, “could not avail himself of any irregularity or defect in the bond” as a defense to the suit. The jury returned a verdict for Mills, and Jones appealed. The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the decision, opining that, even if the bond were defective, the apprentices had not been turned loose, “fit subjects to be seduced and employed by any stranger that thinks proper to interfere.
I first encountered this case many years ago when I was researching my master’s thesis, which examined the involuntary apprenticeship of free children of color. The published decision in Jones v. Mills is not terribly interesting. I was stunned, then, when I peeked into the case file, now stored at the North Carolina State Archives: “This was an action on the case for seducing away two colored boys Durant and Willis Henderson alias Dove claimed by the plaintiff as his apprentices by virtue of indentures with the County Court of Onslow.”
Durant and Willis Henderson — alias Dove?
I knew that my Hendersons originated in Onslow. I also had a good friend during my college years who was a Dove. A bit of research quickly established that L.D. was a descendant of Durant Dove, via his son Lewis James Dove. Further research, still ongoing, strongly suggests that Durant and Willis’ mother, Nancy Henderson alias Dove, was the sister of my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Patsey Henderson. Their father appears to have been Simon Dove, a free man of color from Craven County.
The case file also reveals that John Jones bound Durant and Willis in 1819 to serve as his apprentices and learn the art of farming. They remained with Jones until 1828, when Mills took them into Jones County, giving rise to this suit.
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