The affront of an affray

More than fighting words

The indictment was returned in the fall term of court.

The time: October 1878.

The place: Mitchell County, North Carolina.

Henry Masters, foreman of the Grand Jury, signed the document as a true bill, and it was handed up to the judge of the Superior Court:

The Jurors for the State upon their Oaths present, that Harrison Street and Simon Street on the first day of Sept in the year A.D. 1878 with force and arms, at and in the County of Mitchell did unlawfully assemble together to disturb the peace of the State; and so being then and there unlawfully assembled together, did make an AFFRAY, by then and there fighting together by mutual and common consent, in public view, to the terror and disturbance of divers citizens of the State then and there being, in contempt of the State and its laws, contrary to the Statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State.1

affrayNow the records don’t say whether Harrison Street and Simon Street were brothers, cousins, distant kin or folks who just happened to share a surname. And the 1880 census gives us too many Harrison Streets and Simon Streets to choose from to be sure just which of the Street boys these two were (there are, for example, at least two Harrisons who are possibilities — a 34-year-old2 and a 20-year-old3).

They do tell us who the witnesses were: Milton Ledford, a 30-year-old from Harrells;4 and another Street — Samuel, a 21-year-old from Harrells.5

And they tell us that the court sent out warrants and subpoenas for everybody.

Arrest warrants were issued for the defendants on 10 October 1878, directing that they be summoned to appear for trial at the courthouse in the county seat of Bakersville on “the first Monday after the fourth Monday in March 1879”6 — an odd but precise way of designating 1 April 1879, the day when the spring court term would begin in Mitchell County.

Witness subpoenas were issued for Samuel Street and Milton Ledford on 30 December 1878, ordering them to show up to testify that same “first Monday after the fourth Monday in March 1879.”7

On 23 December 1878, Harrison signed an appearance bond, promising to show up for trial, in the amount of $200 with John Street as his surety. On 15 January 1879, Simon signed an appearance bond, promising to show up for trial, in the amount of $200 with Joseph Street as his surety.8 (Sounds more and more like a family affair, doesn’t it?)

And the records also tell us Harrison and Simon were found guilty — fined a whole whopping $2 each plus court costs by Judge J. F. Graves.9

Cool.

Now just what exactly were they found guilty of?

An affray, Black’s Law Dictionary tells us, in the criminal law, was “the fighting of two or more persons in some public place to the terror of the people.”10 And, the definition continues:

It differs from a riot in not being premeditated; for if any persons meet together upon any lawful or innocent occasion, and happen on a sudden to engage in fighting, they are not guilty of a riot, but an affray only; and in that case none are guilty except those actually engaged in it.11

So: “To constitute this offence there must be, 1st, a fighting; 2d, the fighting must be between two or more persons; 3d, it must be in some public place ; 4th, it must be to the terror of the people.”12

In other words, people must be affronted for there to be an affray, “for if the fighting be in private, out of the hearing or seeing of any, except the parties concerned, it is no affray but an assault.”13

And I can’t resist it — I just can’t — here what we have is … a Street fight.


SOURCES

  1. Mitchell County, North Carolina, Superior Court, Indictment no. 51 (1878), State v. Street and Street; North Carolina State Archives, C.R.066.325.3; digital images, “North Carolina, Civil Action Court Papers, 1712-1970,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 21 Apr 2014).
  2. 1880 U.S. census, Mitchell County, North Carolina, Harrells Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 148, p. 75(C) (stamped), dwelling 25, family 25, Harrison Street; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 Apr 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 973.
  3. 1880 U.S. census, Mitchell Co., N.C., Red Hill Twp., pop. sched., ED 149, p. 89(B) (stamped), dwell. 96, fam. 101, Harrison Street.
  4. 1880 U.S. census, Mitchell Co., N.C., Harrells Twp., pop. sched., ED 148, p. 76(A) (stamped), dwell. 42, fam. 42, Milton Ledford.
  5. Ibid., p. 79(C) (stamped), dwell. 98, fam. 99, Samuel Street.
  6. Mitchell County, North Carolina, Superior Court, capias writs, Indictment No. 51 (1878), State v. Street and Street; North Carolina State Archives, C.R.066.325.3; digital images, “North Carolina, Civil Action Court Papers, 1712-1970,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 21 Apr 2014).
  7. Ibid., subpoena.
  8. Ibid., capias writs, reverse sides.
  9. Ibid., bill of costs.
  10. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 51, “affray.”
  11. Ibid.
  12. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society (http://www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm : accessed 21 Apr 2014), “affray.”
  13. Henry Potter, The Office and Duty of a Justice of the Peace: And a Guide to Sheriffs, Coroners, Clerks, Constables, and Other Civil Officers, According to the Laws of North-Carolina…, 2d ed. (Raleigh: J. Gales & Son, 1828), 14; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 21 Apr 2014).
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2 Responses to The affront of an affray

  1. A street fight?
    “In sleepy Mitchell County there’s just no place for a street fightin’ man…”
    (apologies to Mick Jagger and the Stones….)

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