Only four years after the American revolution, Wilkes County in Georgia’s embryonic cotton belt witnessed the trial of Jude, an enslaved woman accused of poisoning her owner’s son on New Year’s Eve. She was jailed the next day, tried and convicted of murder within three weeks, and likely executed by the end of the month. Jude’s case is unusual in that she was brought before a criminal court as a defendant, with the right to a trial by jury. But the jury of her peers was composed entirely of white men, of who at least four were illiterate. In examining these documents, consider the nature of the judges’ death sentence, the wording of the inquisition, and the foreman’s verdict. In total, they demonstrate an individual deemed fit to stand trial but denied the most basic of rights thereafter.
From the available documents, what do we know about Jude’s society? What do we know about the jury? The verdict? The nature of execution and subsequent cremation?
Should Jude’s actual guilt or innocence have any impact upon our study of this case? Would your interpretation of the proceedings change if we knew Jude was innocent, or that Jude was guilty?