The Terrority of Florida vs. Caesar, a Slave
About This Case
Many antebellum cases before Florida’s Territorial Court of Appeals and Supreme Court involved individuals who left little evidence of their lives in the historical record. This is especially true for cases involving slaves.
In 1839, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals heard the case of Caesar v. Territory of Florida. Caesar, a slave, stood accused of murdering Robert Herron. The court asserted that Caesar, “not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil” maliciously attacked and killed Herron. The case originated from the Franklin Circuit Court located at Apalachicola.
According to the case file, Caesar was also known as Hunter or Sam Jones. Documents outlining the details of a crime do not always still exist in files for the early years of Florida’s courts. In the example of Caesar, however, details about the murder remain as part of the case documents.
Robert Herron was swimming in a body of water, assumed to be a creek near Apalachicola, apparently at a depth greater than his own height. Caesar approached Herron in a small boat. Although we do not know the reason for his actions, Caesar attacked Herron with an oar (or paddle) while he was swimming. Through repeated blows to the head and body, Caesar knocked Herron unconscious and he subsequently drowned.
At the trial, prosecutors produced eyewitnesses to the incident who described the scene and Herron’s rapid disappearance below the surface of the water. Caesar entered a plea of not guilty, but neither he nor his counsel offered a rebuttal or brought forth witnesses to offer an alternative account of these events. The jury found Caesar guilty and sentenced him to death by hanging.
At this point, H.D. Darden appeared. He represented Caesar’s master, James C. Watson. Darden requested more time for witnesses in favor of Caesar to come forward. He also spoke negatively about Mr. Hollis, the principal eyewitness for the prosecution. Apparently Watson was out of the territory at the time of the alleged crime and was unable to appear for the trial.
The request by Darden on behalf of Watson may have caused the court to pause and hold off on the execution. The fate of Caesar is unknown. The request to call witnesses and the accusations against the credibility of Hollis are the last items of note in the Caesar case file. Regardless of what happened next, Watson’s plea was designed to save the life of his valuable property, the slave known as Caesar.