Tuesday, March 5, 2013

“For One of the Jury Saw it Done”



I love to read old newspapers.  Newspapers played such an important role in the communities of our ancestors and allow us to take a glimpse into the world that they lived in.  I love discovering the events that took place during my ancestors'  lifetimes.

I stumbled upon the article below about five years ago and it never fails to make me smile.  Initially it caught my eye because of my family surname, Gurganus, but it's the florid, descriptive writing that makes me pull it out and re-read it time and again.  From the description of Ephraim Sykes and his actions preceding his testimony to the jury's verdict,  I feel that I can imagine the entire scene. I am sure you will be just be as shocked as I was when you realize that a member of the jury was also a witness to the crime.   (Sadly, I think I tend to overlook the the fact that Nicodemus was accused of committing a horrible crime because the writing is so entertaining.)

 Read on.
The Defendant stood before a Jury of his Country, indicted under the name and style of Nicodemus Gerganus for an assault and battery on the body of Stephen Simpkins. Declining for the present to answer the charge directly, he plead a misnomer, suggesting that his true baptismal name was Nicholas Ganus, and by no means Nicodemus Gerganus, as erroneously charged in the Bill. This preliminary and somewhat collateral issue was submitted to the Jury.  Ephraim Sykes, a sallow, lantern-jawed dweller of the coast, of such remarkable length and sinuosity of person, that calomel never could find its way through him, was brought to the stand as a witness to prove by what name the Defendant ought to be called in legal proceedings, and handed down to posterity. In reply to a question proposed by the Defendant’s Counsel, he hitched up his trowsers, spit on the floor; drew his broad foot over it, and answered . I have hearn him called Nicholas Gerganus and Nick Gerganus. some folks calls him Nicodemus Gerganus, and some calls him Nicodemus Ganus. Sometimes his neighbors calls him Mr. Ganus, and I don’t know if I hav’nt sometimes hearn him called Mr. Gerganus but I, in ginerally, calls him Nick Ganus.  The Jury retired and brought in a verdict that the defendant was a poor shoat any how, and it was not worth while to be bothering themselves about his name: as to his name, it is one of those small things about which the law careth not. He had done little for posterity, and posterity would care precious little about him. He had undoubtedly gouged Simpkins, for one of the Jury saw it done. So they had agreed to bring him in guilty of the charge in manner and form. 
Stokes & Stokes Reporters, From the Fayetteville Observer, North Carolina, March 27, 1844, Issue 1399, Col F.

 Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013 

10 comments:

  1. No matter how flowery the "reporting," the newspaper had a point on one account: it was something that has been "handed down to posterity."

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    1. So very true.

      I've never paid much attention to this line because they are in a different part of NC than my folks, and just didn't appear to have any real connection, but recent DNA results have tied our family to some of his descendants.....hmmmmm.

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  2. Now this is a prize! Even with the crime aside...just the names of the people involved add to the drama. Then add in the juror/reporter spin and its a super treasure!
    What a fab thing to share :)
    Kassie aka "Mom"
    Maybe someone should write that down...

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    1. Thanks! I just really got a kick out of the way that reporter described it all.

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  3. Good golly, today wouldn't lawyers on both sides have a field day with all that is wrong with this case!

    If news reporters wrote like this today, maybe newspapers wouldn't be losing readers so rapidly.

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    1. Oh my goodness, you know lawyers would! It was a real kicker to come to that line and realize how much things have changed.

      And as for how they wrote---I seriously laugh out loud when I read how he described Ephraim Sykes and telling how he spit on the floor, etc----it just all paints quite the scene doesn't it?

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  4. That whole thing with the name reminds me of the guy whose shtick was "You can call me Ray ... " (then he goes on with just about every possibility of name from Raymond J. Johnson Jr.).

    I was a little surprised that one of the jury had witnessed the crime and was still allowed to be on the jury.

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  5. That's funny Carol, because my husband and I said the same thing. It's funny how lines like that can stick in your mind forever.

    Truly amazing that they would have someone serving on the jury that had witnessed the crime----wonder if that swayed the jury any? ha ha Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. What wonderful prose! "Ephraim Sykes, a sallow, lantern-jawed dweller of the coast, of such remarkable length and sinuosity of person, that calomel never could find its way through him..." This is a priceless description. So "sinuous" that even calomel lotion couldn't get through him.

    And then again: "the defendant was a poor shoat any how, and it was not worth while to be bothering themselves about his name." This is worthy of a Sam Shepard play. I'd like to see it on the screen!

    I, too, forget that this was a murder trial because I'd rather enjoy the language!

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  7. Mariann, it's it a fun read? I agree---it should be on the screen. Thanks for dropping by!

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