“…a Damnd Thief”

In 1811, at the January Term of the Madison County Court, an impassioned plea came before the jury. Nathaniel Christian, and his attorney James Rodgers, wanted the twelve men presiding over small judgments to know that Nathaniel Christian, “now is and always was from the time of his nativity… a good, true, honest and faithful citizen of this Territory.”

Christian claimed that “all his good neighbors” respected him and he possessed an unblemished reputation. For his whole life nobody had ever accused him of “thefts, felonies, larcenies or other hurtful crime,” until the summer of 1810.

On an unspecified day in June 1810, in front of “divers good citizens of this Territory,” Michael Harrison “loudly [spoke]… the several false, fraudulent, malicious and opprobrious English words… You are a Damnd Thief.”

Nathaniel Christian was taken aback. According to his bill against Harrison, the only reason Harrison accused him was that he was aware of Christian’s good standing in the community and envied his “happy State and Condition.” Imagine his surprise when Harrison kept shouting at him, “You are a Damned Thief and I can prove it.”

Christian claimed that these abusive words caused communal faith to melt away from him like December’s ice on April’s trees. For such an egregious violation of his “good name, fame and reputation,” Nathaniel Christian thought it only fitting that he recover against Michael Harrison “damage [worth] one thousand dollars.”

Harrison of course plead not guilty, saying that he did not remember making these accusations, but “he saith if he did speak and publish said slanderous words he was justified in so doing because he saith said plaintiff is a Thief and this he is ready to verify.”

The cause continued, punted from each term of the court to the next, until January 1812, when a jury convened to reexamine the case. They found Michael Harrison guilty of decrying the good name of Nathaniel Christian, and “they do assess the damage of the plaintiff to Five dollars.”

Nathaniel Christian v. Michael Harrison, Madison County Alabama County Court Record Book 1, 1811 – 1813. p. 46 – 48 (1811).

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