John D. Smith of Grand Bahama was one angry white man in 1824. Smith had only one thing on his mind. He was determined to uncover the nocturnal goings on of his beloved wife, Mrs. Smith. For you see, John D. had long suspected the good lady of being unfaithful to him.
He must have realised something was wrong since he and his wife, had been living some thirty miles apart, on the same island of Grand Bahama, for almost two years. It must have undoubtedly been a sour estrangement, because Smith had the children, two daughters, living with him on his plantation, and not with his wife.
One night, on the 11th May 1824, John D. Smith just couldn’t take it anymore. Smith took a boat and four of his strongest negro slaves and they went looking for the wife, Mrs. Smith. As the slaves rowed toward the next settlement, Smith became more enraged.
By the time they broke into Mrs. Smith’s house, you just knew all hell was gonna break loose. And that’s exactly what happened!
John D. Smith had the four negroes break down the door of the house. While one negro held the lantern so everyone could see, the other three grabbed the man laying in the bed with John Smith’s wife. Mr. Archibald W. G. Taylor, was the lover of Mrs. Smith. He was brutally grabbed out of the bed.
The negroes held Archibald Taylor down while John D. pulled out his knife, and cut the man’s ears off.
Taylor, bleeding profusely and beaten to a pulp, is then led out of the house. Mrs. Smith was probably hysterical and screaming, but Mr. Smith paid her no heed.
Smith calls out to his friends in the settlement, Mr. Charles Weatherford and Mr Richard Wilscome to come and observe that he had cut off Taylor’s ears to his satisfaction.
The bleeding and mutilated lover, naked as the day he was born, proceeds to his own house with Weatherford and Wilscome following behind. They leave Taylor somewhere along the trail to his house.
Taylor then goes to his own house and wakes up his brother. He demands the gun that they keep for hunting. The brother tells him that their negro had taken the gun out just that day for hunting.
ARRESTED and TRIAL
John D. Smith and his four negro slaves were arrested. Smith was charged with the crime of Mayhem.
As for the four negroes, they should have known better. Firstly, it was 1824, slavery wouldn’t be abolished for another ten years. Slaves, in 1824, had as much rights as hen’s had teeth. Their fate was sealed from the very moment they began rowing the boat for their master.
Secondly, even at the behest of their master, the negroes still broke into the house of a white woman, and unquestionably saw her in a state of undress. This alone could have them jailed for life, whipped every day for life, transported to some sugar plantation in Demerara where they would surely be dead in a year or just plain hanged.
Thirdly, the negroes grabbed by the throat, subdued and held down, against his will, a white man in sound mind. This part doesn’t bear elaboration because as stated, this was during slavery. This was a hanging offence period.
King v Smith and others
ON TRIAL FOR MAYHEM
Nassau, New Providence, April 28. – Yesterday , in the General Court, a trial came on, which, from its rare occurrence, and the circumstances attending it, excited no small degree of interest. This was the trial of John D. Smith, of Grand Bahama, for the crime of mayhem, by cutting off part of the ears of A. W. G. Taylor, of the same island. The circumstances of the case as detailed in evidence, were in substance as follows: –
Smith having entertained unfavourable suspicions of his wife’s purity of character, they had lived separate for 12 or 18 months past, on the same island, their residence being 30 miles distant. Smith having his two daughters living with himself. Taylor lived about half a mile from Mrs. Smith.
Smith left his own residence in a boat, accompanied by four in the grill man, landed at some distance from the house of Charles Weatherford, into whose house he came about 9 o’clock on the night of the 11th of last month, soon after which hour the witness to this part of the affair retired to bed.
Taylor’s evidence was, that about 11 o’clock on the above-mentioned night, being in bed with Mrs Smith, in your own home, he was awoke by persons breaking in the side of the house, near the bed, went through an aperture thus made, Smith entered accompanied by four negro men, one of whom held a lighted to watch, another of the negroes seized Taylor near the throat, and he was dragged off the bed and laid on the floor, when Smith took a small knife from his pocket and cut off part of both the ears of Taylor. He was then allowed to rise on his feet when Smith tore his shirt off.
Thus mutilated and bleeding he was led out of the house, and heard Smith call out to Charles Weatherford and Richard Wilscome, and soon afterwards Weatherford asked Smith “Have you cut them both?”
He replied, “Yes I have cut them both.”
Taylor then proceeded to is own house, accompanied by Weatherford and Wilscome, who passed on.
Taylor called up his brother, who was asleep. Taylor then desired his brother to hand him the gun, but which had been taken out that day by one of the Negroes. He then desired his brother to get him some clothes and prepare to have his wounds dressed.
The evidence on the part of the Crown having been gone through, the Counsel for the prisoner commenced his defence, which he conducted in a very ingenious and strongly argumentative manner, and concluded with an eloquent appeal to the jury on the enormity of the injury which had been done to the prisoner by Taylor, whom he had discovered in the manner stated in the evidence. This was replied to by the Solicitor General in clear and perspicuous language, effectually and successfully comparing law cited, and the arguments used in the defence of the prisoner.
The Chief Justice then recapitulated the evidence to the jury, commenting in strong terms on the province of the Jury as to the law cited on the part of the defence, and they retired from the Court about 10 o’clock at night.
After consulting together for nearly an hour, the jury returned into court, finding the prisoner guilty, but recommended him to mercy.
(The Observer, London, Sunday June 27, 1824)
What was the crime of MAYHEM in 1824 LAW?
The common law crime of mayhem is defined as an act of maliciously disabling or disfiguring the victim.
Under the laws of England and other common law jurisdictions, it originally consisted of the intentional and wanton removal of a body part that would handicap a person’s ability to defend themself in combat.
Under the strict common law definition, initially this required damage to an eye or a limb, while cutting off an ear or a nose was deemed not sufficiently disabling.
Later the meaning of the crime expanded to encompass any mutilation, disfigurement, or crippling act done using any instrument.
BRILLIANT MOTION MADE BY DEFENCE TO SET ASIDE GUILTY VERDICT
By June 26, 1824, John D. Smith and others, others being the four negroes, had all already been convicted of the crime of mayhem. The jury found Smith guilty, but recommended him to Mercy.
The barrister for Smith made a legal motion in an effort to have the guilty verdict set aside. The argument was said to be nothing short of brilliant. In fact, the motion was so ingenious that it took the court a full week of deliberations before it reconvened to address the defence’s motion.
The argument made was that yes John D. Smith did cut off both ears of Mr. Archibald Taylor in a jealous rage after finding him in bed with his wife. But as the ear was not a member of the body, Smith’s cannot possibly be guilty of the crime of Mayhem.
(The Raleigh Register Friday 16 July 1824)
TRIAL FOR MAYHEM
In our Paper of the 26th of June last we published the proceedings upon the trial of John D. Smith of Grand Bahama, for the unusual crime of Mayhem, committed by cutting off part of the ears of Archibald W. G. Taylor, of the same island.
It will be recollected that Smith, accompanied by others, entered during the night the house of his wife, from whom he lived separate, and discovered Taylor in bed with Mrs. Smith. The prisoner deliberately took a small penknife and cut off both Taylor’s years. The jury found Smith guilty, but recommended him to mercy. The following are the subsequent proceedings of the singular a fair: –
On Friday, the 7th, in the General Court, in the case of the King v Smith and others, who have been convicted of the crime of mayhem, the Counsel for the prisoners, after their being called to the bar, moved an arrest of judgement on two grounds: the first of which was, that the offence of which they had been convicted did not come within the purview of the statute, commonly called the Coventry Act, inasmuch as the ear was not a member of the human body; the law stating—
“That if any person or persons, on purpose and of malice aforethought, and by lying in wait, shall unlawfully cut or disable the tongue, put out an eye, slit the nose, cut off a nose or lip, or cut off or disable any limb or member of any subject of his Majesty, with intention in so doing to maim or disfigure in any manner before mentioned, shall be, and they are hereby declared to be felons, and shall suffer death, as in case of felony, without benefit of Clergy.”
The second ground upon which the Counsel argued was a want of legal formality in the indictment, which contained two counts; the first for cutting off the ears of Taylor, and the second for cutting off part of the ears. That these two acts being entirely inconsistent with each other, the indictment was defective; as, by the first count, if the whole of the ears was cut off, it was impossible, as charged in the second account, to cut off a part of them; or, if a part was cut off in the first instance, it was not possible afterwards to cut off the whole.
(The Waterford Mirror, Waterford, Ireland, Wednesday 11 August 1824)
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL RESPONDS TO THE DEFENCE MOTION TO SET ASIDE GUILTY VERDICT
After a week of deliberations to consider the defence Counsel’s arguments, the Solicitor General cites cases as well as verses from the bible, specifically St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians to counter the motion to set aside the guilty verdict.
The Solicitor General in his reply to these reasons, commenced to combat the objection to the indictment by citing a case where a woman had been indicted for murder: the first count in the indictment charging her with having starved her own child to death; and the second count accused her of having strangled it; no objection had been raised to this indictment, although the counts in it were also inconsistent with each other.
In answer to the first ground for arrest of judgement several cases were cited to shew that the facts of the case came clearly with in the purview of the statute: and referring to the many arguments which had been used on the trials, the case was submitted to the court, which soon afterwards adjourned until Friday morning.
Yesterday being the adjournment day, the court met, and the prisoners were brought to the bar, when the court gave its decision on the arrest of judgement, citing several authorities which applied to the case, one of which was taken from Saint Paul, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, wherein he says –
“14 For the body is not one member, but many.
15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?
20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.”
(The Waterford Mirror, Waterford, Ireland, Wednesday 11 August 1824)
GUILTY VERDICT STANDS. SMITH AND OTHERS SENTENCED TO HANG ON THE TOWN PARADE ON BAY STREET
From the various authorities cited, and the obvious intention of the statute, the Court was of the opinion there was no grounds to support and arrest of judgement: and proceeded to pass the awful sentence of the law, which was delivered by the Chief Justice with great feeling, in a very impressive and solemn manner – that they were to hanged on the Town Parade on Monday 24th instant (May.)
(The Waterford Mirror, Waterford, Ireland, Wednesday, 11 August 1824)
(The Raleigh Register, Friday, 16 July 1824)
The names Weatherford and Wilscome (now written as Wilchcombe) mentioned in 1824, were passed down, and in some cases taken by slaves from their owners. Weatherford and Wilscome (Wilchcombe) are still surnames of Bahamians today, on the island of Grand Bahama.