DENNIS

Nobody ever charged John Bell for murder. They simply recorded his deed and let him continue his previous life as a laborer. Sometime during 1811, Bell rented the services of a young boy named Dennis from his master, a man named Douglas I. Puckel.* We know not the specifics of Bell’s work, nor much of Dennis. Unlike other early settlers John Bell only briefly appeared in the historical record and just as quickly slipped back into obscurity.

We do know this – on August 25, 1811, John Bell beat Dennis badly and “evilly and cruelly entreated him.” He drove Dennis from his homestead and chased him into the woods. Where he left him. Bell either lived an almost insurmountable distance from town or he’d so completely beaten Dennis as to have broken the boy’s bones, because Dennis languished there. For seven days Dennis suffered on the ground and for seven days John Bell did nothing to prevent this. He refused to bring the boy food or water and instead watched as the strength leached out of him.

Dennis died from thirst and starvation on September first.

Nobody ever charged John Bell for murder.

*I really and truly hate to use the word master. However, it’s shorter than “son a bitch who held a piece of paper that allowed him to exploit, to the fullest extent, the labor of another human being because both were born within a time, place, and system that propagated a swift and violent law upon those erred outside of the norms of a slave society.”

The Territory v. John Bell, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 21/19-22/19 (1811).

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