The Beam in John’s Hand

On March 19, 1820, John Wood lay in wait.

Camouflaged and patient he concealed himself behind the trees or a barn, the court documents are not specific, and most of all, he waited.

Up the road walked a man named Major. Listed in the court record as an enslaved person, the property of one John Simmons, we have no real record of Major. We know he was a full grown man but not his true age. We know he was enslaved but not his duties nor how many other people shared that status with him on John Simmons’ property. We know little but we do know this.

On March 19, John Wood waited for him “with malice aforethought.”

Unlike previous assaults on enslaved people this was premeditated. John Wood did not simply attack Major in a fit of rage nor did he see the man alone and decide to take advantage of the situation. From his willingness to wait we can infer some things. John and Major either possessed some prior grievance with each other or John Wood wished to lash out at John Simmons, Major often took this particular path, and John Wood knew the man well enough to time his movements accordingly.

Up came Major and John Wood leapt up to meet him. He brandished “a certain wooden stick which he the said John Wood in his right hand then and there held,” and with this stick he stabbed forward. It caught Major in his right eye, which John Wood “did strike and put out,” maiming the man and injuring him greatly.

The court found him guilty of assault and fined him twenty five dollars.


The State of Alabama v. John Wood, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 63-64 (1821).



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