Land in an Upheaval

Stephen and Dempsey had a bad day. Both men lived in Madison county and were enslaved persons, so they honestly probably had a lot of bad days, but those were quotidian. Maybe they developed coping mechanisms to deal with the daily oppression of specific men, but this day tore through their lives with all the mercy of winter.

Stephen belonged to a man named Richard Holden and Dempsey to a man named Davis Battles, there’s no clear record of the relationship between Stephen and Dempsey, or even if Holden or Battles owned farms near each other. At worst any of these people might only rarely encounter each other about town – until July 19, 1823.

Williamson Land felt something that day. It was some other kind of fury. There’s a theory about white southern violence, that it grew from the brutal nature of slavery in our ancestors’ day to day life. It’s true. After all, “you can’t hold a man down without staying down with him,” and you certainly can’t hold half your population down without dragging something wrong out of the other half.* So, something wrong came out.

He saw two black men and he did “beat wound and ill treat,” them until they were almost dead. Had the men stolen from Land or attacked him then the court would not have gotten involved. Williamson Land woke up that day with something broken inside him. That’s all.

Fortunately the jurors found him at fault.** Unfortunately they only fined him, which meant that Richard Holden and Davis Battles received $50 and $20 respectively as a way to compensate them for the loss of profits caused by the suffering of Stephen and Dempsey.


The State of Alabama v. Williamson Land, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 234-235 (1823).

The State of Alabama v. Williamson Land, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 235 (1823).

*Booker T. Washington quotes are pretty good quotes.

**literally the only bright spot in all of this is that a man named Nashville Malone served on the first jury, that’s the best bootlegger name that ever existed

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