WILKINSON V. MOSELEY, 30 ALABAMA 562 (1857)

Headnotes

If the owner of a slave represented her as a good cook, but she turned out not to be, the hirer could rescind the contract.

Under the same circumstances, the hirer did not have a right to rehire the slave for a job not specified in the contract.

If a hired slave died, the owner had to demonstrate that this resulted from the hirer's breach of duty in order to recover.

Facts of the Case
On February 1, 1844, Beverly N. Wilkinson hired Squire and Adeline from Robert A. Moseley through the following January 1. In Montgomery County Circuit Court, Moseley charged that it thus became Wilkinson's duty to provide proper medical care for Adeline, which he did not do, and she died as a consequence. He further charged that Wilkinson had violated the contract because Adeline had been hired to work as a cook in the city of Montgomery, but was rehired as a field hand on a plantation outside the city. Wilkinson responded that Moseley had accepted payment for Adeline's services, with full knowledge of the rehire, and thus ratified it. At the trial, witnesses included Moseley's brother, who was present when Adeline was hired to Wilkinson. He testified that Adeline was, indeed, hired to Wilkinson to work as a cook in the city. He further testified that, at the time of the hiring, Moseley had told Wilkinson that he preferred to hire her for city work because the price was better and city life was healthier than country life.

In March or April, 1844, Wilkinson rehired Adeline to Hughes, who employed her as a field hand on his Alabama River plantation approximately three miles from Montgomery. Hughes' overseer testified that on a Sunday morning toward the end of July or the first of August, Adeline reported to him with a chill and fever, which she had developed the day before. The overseer administered calomel on Sunday night and castor oil on Monday morning. At "dinner-time" on Monday she asked for food and appeared better, but that night became much worse and complained of a pain in her side. The overseer drew a half-pint of blood and put a mustard plaster on her side, stomach, and wrists. That relieved the pain and she went to sleep. At dawn the next day (Tuesday), Adeline was worse and later that day she died. The overseer also testified that he had worked in that capacity for fifteen years and had experience treating slaves with comparable problems. Testimony regarding the nature of the illness and the necessity of having a physician in attendance was inconclusive. The court charged that jury that, if they believed Adeline had needed a physician, then Moseley could recover.

The Court's Decision
Judge George W. Stone wrote the opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court. He ruled that if Moseley had misrepresented Adeline as a cook, Wilkinson could have broken the contract, but this did not authorize him to rehire her in another capacity. He also ruled that the charge to the jury should have contained each of the following propositions: the slave needed a physician, Wilkinson had a duty to supply one, he failed to do so, and Adeline died as a result. The case was remanded.

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