Monday, May 12, 2008

Thurmond vs Bumpass 1819: A Case of Slander

Sometimes the only asset a person has is his good name. To accuse a person of misconduct is to malign his character and damage his reputation in the community. Human nature is such that some folks must point a finger at those they believe have hurt them and these accusations, of course, often result in a law suit. Early records of the circuit courts in Kentucky are full of cases of slander.

One such case is that of Philip Thurmond, plaintiff, against Augustine Bumpass, defendant. Thurmond stated that from his youth he was of good fame and credit among his neighbors ... was known for honesty and propriety of conduct. Thurmond charged Bumpass had defamed his character and reputation ... “and did, on the 20th day of December 1819 in the presence and hearing of divers good and worthy citizens utter the following words: “I (meaning himself the defendant, Bumpass) believe he (meaning the plaintiff, Thurmond) burnt my barn,” meaning that the plaintiff had intentionally & unlawfully burned the plaintiff’s barn or house in which Indian corn & other grain was kept and which had recently been consumed by fire.

On the 30th day of December 1819, the defendant “speaking and conversing with a person of & concerning a house in which tobacco fodder indian corn & other grain was kept by defendant and which house belonging to the defendant and had recently been consumed by fire & was supposed to have been set on fire by an incendiary.” Thurmond charged Bumpass said that he believed Thurmond had set it on fire and reported that Bumpass had repeated his accusation on two different occasions in early January of 1820.

Bumpass entered a plea of not guilty and the jury, composed of Moses Hurley, Elisha Stalion, Elisha Smith, John H. Troop, Jonathan H. Smith, Asa Edwards, Jacob Houts, Andrew Stevenson, John A. Pickens, Enoch Dooly, Cornelius McLaughlin and William Tipson, believed the charges against Bumpass. They decided in Thurmond’s favor and fined Bumpass $45 in damages.

Livingston Circuit Court Order Book E, pages 460B, 462, 471.
Livingston County Circuit Court case files, Thurmond vs Bumpass, Accession #A1986-289, Box 27, Kentucky Dept for Libraries and Archives.

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