Charles Wadlow vs. John G. Perryman-1857

Charles Wadlow lived in Cass Township, in Greene County, Missouri. He worked his land cultivating crops, and in 1860 he owned three slaves, a 36 year old female, 1 33 year old male and a 5 year old girl.1 Four years earlier, Wadlow purchased two additional slaves. On September 20, 1856, he bought a slave named Violet and her son named Aaron from Benjamin Perryman for $875. However, when he received Violet and Aaron he found that they were “diseased and unsound” and not in the fit condition as Perryman stated.2 Wadlow attempted to seek refund for his purchase.

On May 4th, 1858 Wadlow filed a claim against Benjamin Perryman in the Probate and Common Plea court in Greene County, Missouri for one thousand dollars. The outcome of the case hinged on the definition of the slaves’ condition. The way to determine the “sound condition” of a slave was very subjective and the evidence to prove that a slave was “worthless” had to be quite substantial for a claim to hold any legal standing in a court of law. When Violet and Aaron came to Wadlow, they were very ill. Mrs. Whittenburg, another slave of Wadlow’s, testified that when she helped Violet into bed she “discovered that the Negro woman could not lie on one side because it caused her a lot of pain.”3

The declarations of the Negro woman, Mrs. Whittenburg, were excluded by the court, and because the judge did not allow her testimony, the verdict came back in the favor of Perryman. Charles Wadlow, displeased with the outcome, decided to appeal the case to the State Supreme Court, in which they sided with Mr. Wadlow; sighting that the lower courts had erred in not allowing the testimony be submitted into evidence.

We see no difference between this case and that of Man vs Hill & Haynes, 10 Mo. 323. The evidence offered by the plaintiff of the declarations of the slave, made whilst she was laboring under sickness, as to the cause of her ilness and the source of it, was admissible and the Court erred in excluding them. With the concurrence of the other Judges, the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded
Charles Wadlow vs. John G. Perryman.

The slave laws that prevailed during the time did not allow for a slave to testify against a white person in court.4 However, since Mrs. Whittenberg was not testifying against Mr. Perryman, only stating the condition she saw Violet in after Wadlow bought her, her testimony was legally admissible into court. The case was returned to the Common Plea court, and no documentation of further ruling could be located.

Contributed by the Greene County Archives and Records Center

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  1. 1860 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Cass, Greene, Missouri; Roll: M653_621; Page: 259; Image: 259; Family History Library Film: 803621.
  2. Charles Wadlow vs. John G. Perryman, 1857. S1 F007. Greene County Archives and Records Center, Springfield, Missouri.
  3. Charles Wadlow vs. John G. Perryman, 1857. S1 F007. Greene County Archives and Records Center, Springfield, Missouri. Part 2, pg 8
  4. “Slave Codes”, U.S. History Online Textbook, Wednesday, January 19, 2011,