NESBITT V. DREW, 17 ALABAMA 379 (1850)


If two slaves were hired for one sum, the fulfillment of the entire contract was necessary for its enforcement.

If the owner removed one of the slaves from service before the term expired, he could not recover any part of the contract price.

Slaves hired to work in a sawmill could be employed to raft logs down an adjacent river, as that was part of the ordinary work of the hands employed in the mill.

Facts of the Case

John Drew hired Jeffro and Daniel to William Nesbitt. The contract ran from January 25, 1847, until the same date a year later, called for the payment of $168, and stipulated that Drew would deduct payment for "all time lost by sickness or otherwise." On September 2, 1847, Jeffro went home sick and never returned. On the 20th Drew removed Daniel from service without Nesbitt's consent and refused to return him on demand. Drew claimed that he removed Daniel because Nesbitt employed him to raft logs downriver, but the slave could not swim. Nesbitt replied that Daniel had been employed to work in a sawmill and that rafting logs was part of the ordinary duties of the hands who worked there. The Cherokee County Circuit Court charged the jury that if they believed the testimony, then under the terms of the contract Drew could recover for the time the slaves actually worked.

Nesbitt's Argument

Before the Alabama Supreme Court, Nesbitt argued that Drew had broken the contract by removing Daniel from service. Hence he could recover nothing.

Drew's Argument

Drew replied that he had a moral and legal obligation to protect Daniel, who he knew could not swim. Hence he had been justified in terminating the contract.

The Court's Decision

Judge William P. Chilton wrote the opinion for the Alabama Supreme Court. He ruled that Drew had broken the contract by removing Daniel from service. Hence he was not entitled to recover anything from Nesbitt because the two slaves had been hired under one contract. The clause regarding "time lost by sickness" was irrelevant in this event, though it would have applied had Daniel not been removed. Finally, while the master did have a moral and legal obligation to protect the slave, and slaves could legitimately be removed from hired service under some circumstances, that did not apply in this case. Rafting logs was part of the normal activities of sawmill hands and the contract had not explicitly prohibited Daniel's employment in this capacity.

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