Slaves lacked the legal capacity to choose between freedom and servitude.
Cited in Gaunt v. Tucker, 18 Alabama 31.
Facts of the Case
In his will, John F. Wallis gave several slaves the option of freedom in Africa or continued servitude under his daughter, Ann Eliza. The slaves were Jane Harper and her children, George Washington, Maria, Allice, and Millary, plus the latter’s husband and their two children. He also directed his executor to purchase two other of Millary’s children, who had been sold, and give them the same option. The Wallis estate lacked resources enough to pay all his legatees in full, so some argued that the slaves should be hired out to earn the balance. They based this contention on the illegality of his will as determined in Trotter v. Blocker. The Perry County Orphan’s Court ruled that A.V. Brumby, the administrator, was not obligated to hire the slaves to pay the legatees in full, so they appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Mr. Hopkins presented Brumby’s argument to the Alabama Supreme Court. He contended that Wallis’ will had provided only two options: freedom or servitude. The former was illegal under the Trotter decision, so the slaves automatically went to his daughter, who owned them unconditionally. Hence they were not subject to hiring under the circumstances advocated by the legatees.
The Court’s Decision
Judge Edward S. Dargan wrote the decision for the Alabama Supreme Court. He rejected the legatees’ argument that Wallis died intestate as to the slaves. He had given them two options. One option was illegal, so the other automatically took effect. It would have been the same had the first option been legal, but rejected by the slaves.