If a slave was hired for a particular service but employed otherwise, the owner could recover damages.

If the owner of the same slave accepted payment for the services, knowing that the slave's labor had been converted to another use, he could not recover damages.

Facts of the Case

Robert A. Moseley hired two slaves to Beverly Wilkinson from February 1, 1844, to January 1, 1845. A witness to the contract claimed that one of the slaves, Adeline, had been hired to work as a cook in the city of Montgomery. In April, 1845, however, Wilkinson rehired her to Hughes, who employed Adeline as a field hand on a nearby plantation. In that capacity, she became ill, was treated by the overseer, and subsequently died. Later, Moseley accepted payment for Adeline's rehire, knowing that she had been rehired to Hughes as a field hand. Subsequent to that, he sued Wilkinson in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Wilkinson's Argument

Before the Alabama Supreme Court, Wilkinson argued that driving a hired horse a greater distance or in a different direction than agreed upon violated the contract, but acceptance of payment with knowledge of how the horse had been used barred legal action by the owner.

Moseley's Argument

Moseley argued that he had been entitled not only to the full hire, but also to the return of the slave upon the contract's expiration. Hence he deserved both the full hire and damages for Adeline's death.

The Court's Opinion

Judge George Goldthwaite wrote the opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court. He ruled that Moseley was not entitled to payment for the full term of the contract and damages that covered a portion of the term. If he knew of the rehiring before the term had expired and subsequently received payment for the full term, then he had no right to recover damages. Goldthwaite also noted that Moseley had not addressed Wilkinson's breach of duty to the court's satisfaction.

Go to the AU Archives and Manuscripts Department Homepage