In studying the documentation I've procured for the case, I've discovered more than one charge was levied by the Brownings against the defendant, James Beck. The first was Julia Ann Browning vs. James Beck; the second, Samuel Browning vs. James Beck. The two cases were conducted simultaneously. I'll be approaching the case in as much chronological order as I'm able to pull from the case files. But first things first. We can't have any case at all without the mitigating circumstances!
Julia Ann Browning, the eldest daughter of Samuel Browning and Margaret Markee, gave birth to a son she named Washington -- very likely in her home, and possibly in the very bed she slept in -- in Moorefield Township in Harrison County, Ohio, on 24 March 1837. She was a 16-yr old teenager at the time of Washington's birth. At around the same time, Julia's mother Margaret, aged 36, was likely either pregnant with her eleventh child, John Wesley Francis Browning, or had just given birth to him.
Using what scanty evidence I've been able to pull from the entirety of the case, Julia suffered from morning sickness during her pregnancy and might have been bed sick after the birth. Her father's testimony also seems to support this. Four days after the birth Julia was interviewed -- apparently in her bed in her home -- by a justice and, oddly, by James Beck himself! This sort of thing isn't a common practice today and occurs only in the rare cases that a defendant represents himself in court, but apparently having the defendant question the accuser was a legitimate and acceptable practice in 1837. But more about that in due time.
Three days after Washington's birth Samuel and Julia Ann went to see Samuel Skinner, a Justice of the Peace in Harrison County. Julia began the case by filing an affidavit with the Court of Common Pleas claiming a charge of Bastardy against James Beck. I don't suspect they saw any reason to file the case before Washington's birth because there was always the possibility of a stillbirth or the death of Julia herself. The affidavit is as follows:
THE STATE OF OHIO HARRISON COUNTY
Personally came before me Samuel Skinner one of the Justices of the peace in and for said county Julia Ann --- Browning an unmarried woman of Moorefield Township in said county and made solemn oath that on the 24th day of March AD 1837 she was delivered of a bastard child and that James Beck is the father of said child.
Julia Ann (Her mark) Browning
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 27th day of March AD 1837
Justice of the Peace
Later that day (27 March) Justice of the Peace Skinner issued a warrant for James Beck to Jno. (John or Jonathan) H. Beatty, the constable of Harrison County. I don't have a copy of the actual warrant that James was issued but the following mentions the issuance of one. This document was signed on 7 June but was obviously referring to the day in March when the warrant had been issued. According to Justice Skinner's oath, the constable served the warrant at a cost of 20 cents and 60 cents for mileage. Oh, I found that detail very amusing -- they charged mileage! I didn't realize horses had an odometer!
THE STATE OF OHIO vs. JAMES BECK
1837. March 27th on the affidavit of Julia Ann Browning an unmarried woman resident in the County of Harrison setting forth that she has been delivered of a bastard child and that James Beck is the father of said child. Same day warrant issued to Jno H. Beatty constable, warrant returned endorsed March 27th 1837 served by taking the defendant forthwith before Justice mileage 60 cents service 20 cents. Jno H. Beatty Const.
Whereupon on the 28th day of March AD 1837 the said Julia Ann Browning being duly sworn I proceeded to examine her, touching the cause of her complaint in the presence of said James Beck, and the said James Beck refusing to pay the said Julia Ann Browning to her satisfaction, it is ordered and adjudged that the said James Beck enter into recognizance with sufficient security in the sum of three hundred dollars for his appearance on the first day of the next term of the court of common pleas for said county to answer said complaint and be further dealt with according to law, and the said James Beck with Joseph Townsend as his security entered into such recognizance according to order.
The State of Ohio Harrison County
I do certify the above to be a true copy of the proceedings had in the above cause before me Given under my hand and seal this 7th day of June AD 1837
Samuel Skinner (Seal)
James refused to pay whatever monies Julia had requested of him and, although it does not specifically state, obviously declared himself not guilty of the charges against him. The case was therefore designated for trial on the first day of the next term of court, which was the October 1837 term.
The next day (28 March) was a flurry of activity. A recording of the proceedings was duly entered into the Common Pleas Journal D. At this point James had chosen Edward Clifford as his surety. Edward surrendered him to the court and a man named Joseph Townsend took over, entering with James into an agreement of recognizance with the court. This consisted of two documents; the order for recognizance (attached to the warrant, see above) and the conditions of the recognizance (found below). I also found some confusion with the exact sum of the recognizance. The recording in the Common Pleas Journal states $200, but all other documents -- including the actual order of recognizance itself -- clearly state $300. I suspect that this was an error in transcription on the clerk's part during the Journal recording. The first document was what was entered in the Common Pleas Journal:
Bastardy. This day came the parties by their attorneys and on motion to the court by the complainants counsel, it is ordered that this cause stand continued to the next Term of this Court. And thereupon Edward Clifford the surety of the said James Beck surrendered the said James Beck in open court. And on motion to court it is ordered that the said James Beck enter into recognizance with Joseph Townsend as security approved by the court in the sum of Two hundred dollars. Conditioned for the appearance of the said James Beck at the next term of this court on the first day of the Term to answer unto said complaint. and thereupon the said James Beck & Joseph Townsend personally appeared in open court and acknowledged themselves indebted to the State of Ohio in the sum of two hundred dollars to be levied of their goods, chattels, lands and tenements if default be made in the following condition to wit, the condition of this recognizance is such that if the aforebound James Beck shall personally appear at the next term of this court on the first day of the term and answer unto said complaint for Bastardy, abide the order and judgement of the court thereon and not depart without the leave of the court then this recognizance to be void and of none effect, otherwise to remain in full force & virtue.
And this was the actual order of recognizance:
The State of Ohio Harrison County
Be it remembered that on the 28th day of March AD 1837 James Beck & Joseph Townsend personally appeared before me Samuel Skinner on of the Justices of the peace in and for the county aforesaid and jointly and severally acknowledged to owe the state of Ohio for the use and benefit of the Township of Moorefield in said County of Harrison the sum of three hundred dollars to be levied of their goods and chattles lands and tenements for the use and benefit aforesaid if default be made in the condition following to wit, the condition of this recognizance is such that if the above bound James Beck shall personally be and appears before the court of common pleas next to be holden within and for said County of Harrison on the first day of the term, then and there to answer unto a complaint of Bastardy made by Julia Ann Browning against him, and abide the order of said court thereon, then this recognizance shall be void: otherwise to be in full force and virtue.
Taken and acknowledged before me the the 28th day of March AD 1837
Julia Ann (well, Samuel, but I assume as his daughter she would be represented by the same) had taken Dewey & Stanton as her counsel; James chose Jno. M. Goodinow.
The last item of business on 28 March was by far of the most interest to me. This was an interview conducted with Julia Ann and it took Justice Samuel Skinner and James Beck over to visit at Julia Ann's house. The transcription of the interview is as follows:
STATE OF OHIO VS JAMES BECK
ques by Justice is James Beck the father of your child
Ans. yes sir
ques by Deft. what time was the child begotten
Ans. I cannot tell the day of the month but it was in July at the time father was gone to Wheeling
Ques. was your mother at home and was there much fire in the house
Ans. my mother was at home and not much fire in the house
Ques. by Deft. where was the child begotten
Ans where I now lay on this bed
Ques who was in the bed at the time
Ans. my sister Rachel who was between 11 & 12 years old
Ques by deft was I ever on this bed with you but once
Ques did I when I came to your bed get in the bed and have to do with you
Answer You did
Ques was that the first time I came to see you
Ans no it was not
Given under my hand and seal this 28th day of March AD 1837
Samuel Skinner (seal)
Justice of the Peace
In more ways than one I found this an absolutely fascinating read. It's the only document in the entire file that shows anything of the personality of this young girl at the center of the case. As I read it I wondered at how honest she was being. I wondered at the chutzpah of this girl, that she would invite a young man into her bed with her mother at home and her much younger sister laying beside her as the two were intimate. At first glance it's a real shocker, isn't it? This seems to fly in the face of our modern interpretation of the moral rigidity of times past, doesn't it? Something like this, though, vividly demonstrates that the uptight ideas of sexuality that we think our forebears had originated more from the experience of the Victorian Age than times previous to it. If twelve people lived in a two room house, the idea that sex could be practiced in privacy simply doesn't seem realistic.
There were so many other questions going through my head as I read. Did Rachel tattle? Did Julia threaten her if she told? When did Julia come forth with the truth? Was Julia punished? What was Margaret doing that kept her away from the house long enough for Julia to sneak James in? And lastly, did they ever interview little Rachel as a corroborating witness? They should have! If they did, the document is unfortunately lost.
As to the "not much fire in the house" comment that Julia made, I have a theory though I'd be open to anyone else's comments and thoughts. It seems to me that since it was July, a fire would not be needed in the house for warmth. I suspect that James was trying to establish a time of day for this event. No fire equals daytime, to me. But hey, I could be wrong. I'd welcome input.
I noticed that Julia states that the act occurred in the bed where she laid during the interview. That little detail tells me that Julia was still in bed even four days after giving birth. Perhaps her delivery was a rough one and she wasn't feeling well.
And lastly and most interesting…..Samuel was "gone to Wheeling!" Wheeling is about 50 miles one way from Harrison County, give or take. I'd estimate that meant that Samuel was easily gone an entire week and maybe more. He could have traded in Cadiz or even at Steubenville; both cities were good sized at the time and much more accessible. Wheeling is in Ohio County, which neighbors Brooke County. Brooke was taken from Ohio in 1796. I wonder if Samuel had more reason to go all the way to Wheeling than just stocking up on goods? Perhaps he was visiting kin? That idea excites me, especially considering the deeds featuring Lewis and Lemuel Browning of Brooke County, WV.
This concludes the action on the case until the June Term. Next time we'll be in June!