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August 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part XXV

Arson_25_feist dog

Feist (a.k.a fice or fyce), Courtesy Canidae.

Floyd Jones and “Aunt” Nancy Morgan

Day two of the Wooldridge trial included the testimony of two African Americans, Floyd Jones and Nancy Morgan. Both were witnesses for the prosecution.

Floyd Jones, “boy who took the note to Wooldridge”

African American Floyd Jones, described as “the boy who took the note to Wooldridge,” was apparently the first to inform Wooldridge of the destruction of the Forbes property. Floyd took the stand, told his story in a straightforward manner, and said that Dick Forbes sent him to Wooldridge’s home with the message that nearly everything at the Forbes place was burned to the ground. Importantly, Floyd said that Wooldridge expressed no surprise when he told him about the disaster and responded that he was going to Appomattox depot to meet his daughter. When he returned, he would visit the Forbes farm.

At another point in the day, Mrs. Turner of Appomattox County testified that Wooldridge stopped by her house on his way to Appomattox Courthouse to meet his daughter and told her about the fire. She said that Wooldridge suggested it may have been started by “the colored boy, who always slept in Mr. Forbes’s cook-room.”

In fact, no such boy stayed with the Forbes family. Had Wooldridge fabricated this story to throw suspicion off himself? Was he implicating Floyd Jones? Or, was this just another strange, even nonsensical, comment to be attributed to Wooldridge?

“Aunt” Nancy Morgan, Eye Witness

According to the 1900 census, Nancy Morgan was born in January of 1835. She bore ten children, four of whom were still living in 1900. Her occupation was described as “housekeeper.” Nancy, who lived with the Forbes family, was present on the night of March 3, 1904 when the dwelling house was burned. She took the stand, and according to The Times-Dispatch, “she gave most dramatic and interesting testimony.”

Old Aunt Nancy is a genuine African, and is a born actor, though she does not know it. She gave in a remarkable way the story of the burning. She told how they were all asleep in the house, were awakened by the burning building and told all of their actions and conversations throughout this terrible night. She has a perfect negro dialect; it might be called a negro classic dialect. Some of her expressions are indeed remarkable for their suggestiveness. She told of how the family dog barked early in the night of the fire, and how this dog was answered by a fice on an ivy cliff, a quarter of a mile from the Forbes house. She said she believed this fice dog belonged to the people who did the burning. With brief detail, she told every incident connected with the night of the fire. She said that Charlie Forbes left home about 1 o’clock on the day of the fire and that Miss Janie came in from her school about the time she was getting supper. This was when the dog was heard to bark in the ivy cliff. This barking of the dog in the cliff, the council for the Commonwealth said, meant that the ivy cliff was a meeting place of the conspirators. She said that Mr. Wooldridge had two fice dogs, one a puppy, the other a grown dog. She did not know, however, whose dog was barking in the ivy cliff; she left that for the jury to find out.

The Times-Dispatch concluded that Nancy Morgan’s testimony “made a profound impression upon the court and spectators, though it did not present any extraordinary evidence against Wooldridge.”

Indeed. As dramatic as “Aunt” Nancy’s testimony may have been, it was filled with conjecture and no direct evidence came out which might identify the criminals. Later, an “opinion piece” in the Appomattox and Buckingham Times rather unkindly described her testimony as ludicrous:

In some respects the most ludicrous feature of the trial was the testimony of old “Aunt” Nancy Morgan, the old colored woman who so graphically told the story of the burning. Her looks showed the genuine African, her language was classic negro speech. Every syllable which fell from her lips was eagerly devoured by the immense crowd in court. When she told about “dat ‘ar fice dawg whar’ barked up in de ivy cliff all night,” she carried her audience by storm. “Heish, dawg; heish! What you barkin’ at? An’ den Miss Janie’s puppy, he took an’ commence to bark. An’ he kep’ on a-barkin’. I said “Lil’ puppy, whyn’t you go up dar in de woods an’ help dat yuther dawg kotch dat rabbit?” but Miss Janie’s puppy wouldn’t go. Dat dawg kep’ up a barkin’ in de ivy cliff. I said, ‘Dawg, heish dat barkin’! Heish! I ain’ see nuthin’, you ain’ see nuthin’, an’ nobody else see nuthin’. An’ taint nuthin’ dar nohow. Fice dawg never does bark at nuthin’.”

At the very least, Nancy Morgan knew her fice dogs.

Coming Next: Day Three: Thursday, July 21, 1904

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I



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