Civil Rights Case in West Virginia

October 9, 1866


An interesting case regarding the freedom that freedmen have is expected to be brought before the courts. The basic question of the case is whether or not a white man is required to pay his debts to a black freedman.


Civil Rights Case in West Virginia--Ex-Governer Johnson vs. Alfred Meade. From the Wheeling Intelligencer, Radical. A curious case, involving civil rights of a black man, is pending in the Circuit Court of Harrison county, and is expected to come up for trial at the next term. The facts, as we learn them, are these: About the expiration of the term of Joseph Johnson as Governor of Virginia, Alfred Meade, a colored man, who had saved some money as a waiter in the Richmond hotels, found himself able to buy himself, he being a slave. Governor Johnson owned his wife, and it was arranged that the Governor should become the ostensible purchaser, Meade furnishing the money. This programme was carried out through Mr. Munford, then Secretary of the Commonwealth, who testifies that Meade did furnish the money paid for him. This arrangement was partly to facilitate the purchase and partly to enable Meade to remain in the State, and near his wife, without disturbance, the Virginia law being very severe on free negroes. Meade came to western Virginia, and was allowed by ex-Governor Johnson to shift fot himself, to make his own contracts, come and go when and whither he pleased, work for himself, and appropriate the rewards of his labor. In this he prospered so well that he accumulated money, which he loaned at different times to the ex-Gorernor to an amount over a thousand dollars, receiving notes of hand therefor, payable with interest. The principal and interest now amounts to between eleven hundred and twelve hundred dollars. The case stood thus when ex-Governor Johnson left his home in Harrison county to engage in the rebellion. When he returned he found the relations between himself and Mr. Meade somewhat altered, the latter having the fame status before the law as himself. Mr. Meade applied for payment of the notes. Mr. Johnson refused, and Mr. Meade has brought suit to enforce payment. Mr. Johnson claims that Meade was his slave at the time the transactions took place, and that Meade's money was his money; that in borrowing of Meade he was only borrowing of himself, and that therefore he does not owe anybody else. He also claims that Meade was giving him this money for the purchase of his (Meade's) wife, and that when enough had been paid over she was to have her freedom. Mr. Meade claims that he was a free man, and that Johnson had admitted the fact, and that the admission can be proven. It is certainly true that Johnson's claim to the money because it was for the purchase of the woman's freedom has no force even in law, because his part of that contract, if it ever existed, never was performed. He did not give her her freedom. That was given her by public law.
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Nat Berry




“Civil Rights Case in West Virginia,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed December 16, 2017,