Tallahassee Railroad vs. Macon
About This Case
In 1859, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of Tallahassee Railroad Company vs. Arthur Macon.
In this case, which originated in Leon County Circuit Court, Arthur Macon sued the Tallahassee Railroad Company after his male slave Esop died while working on the railroad. Macon had apparently hired Esop out to the railroad company for several years. It was common practice at the time for slave owners to lease bondsmen for daily and, as in this case, extended periods of labor.
Based on the documents remaining in the case file, Esop was between 50 and 60 years of age at the time of his death. According to the testimony of Dr. George W. Betton, Esop was not given the proper medical treatment and care required by law in these circumstances. Macon had sent Betton to examine Esop, who died the following day. Betton estimated the worth of the slave to be between $800 and $1000.
The defense offered the testimony of two employees of the Tallahassee Railroad Company, referred to as Glennon and Dozier. Both men testified that they knew and worked with Esop. Both stated that when Esop became sick he received the same medical treatment afforded to all workers. They placed the value of Esop at between $200 and $300. The court determined that the testimony of Glennon and Dozier was likely compromised, owing to their association with the railroad company.
The court, citing similar cases from elsewhere in the slave-owning South, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $600. The defense requested a new trial citing a lack of evidence and an excessive fine. The judge declined the motion for retrial.
The opinion of the court in the Macon case provides insight into the logic regarding human property: “…any failure to bestow that degree of care and attention which a kind and humane master would bestow under the circumstances” violated the law and “…in cases of this peculiar species of property, the American Courts, by a spirit of enlightened humanity, have extended a more enlarged protection than prevails in cases of mere chattels.”