Arena, Jim, and Aggy: The Case of Blue Ground Glass…1840, Greensville County, Virginia

Once again, the unindexed records at FamilySearch offer up a genealogical and historical treasure of information. I discovered a case within the Greensville County Virginia Minute Book, 1840-1852 that is most intriguing.

This case involves several enslaved persons, Arena, Jim and Aggy who are charged with attempted murder by powdered blue glass. According to the records, they meant to poison several prominent men of the county and at least one of their wives. Dr. Orris A. Browne and his wife, Susan, were intended targets. David W. Brodnax, William Newsom, and Susan Shepherd were also intended targets for ingesting the powder, either through their water on in their butter, per the court records.

John R. Chambliss makes an appearance as defense counsel for all three who are charged. This case takes place in the year 1840 in Greensville County, Virginia. Greensville is a neighboring county of Southampton, where less than ten year prior, the rebellion of 1831 had taken place.

In fact, Dr. Browne, was one of the judges in the Nat Turner trials. Was this plot some type of retribution for his part in the flurry of fury of 1831? To add, Dr. Browne is mentioned as the leading candidate for the dissection and desecration of Turner’s body. The court record provides a supposed motive that is compelling to consider. Read on to learn more.

In the shadow of these events, come Arena, Jim, and Aggy. Below you will find the entire minutes of their cases transcribed, but can we ever know just what really happened to these souls?

I present The Case of Blue Ground Glass:

Greensviille County Virginia Minute Book 1840-1852
At a Court of Oyer and Terminer…

At a Court of Oyer + Terminer held at the Court House of Greensville County on Monday the 2 day of March 1840 for the trial of Arena a negro woman, slave belonging to the Martha Madill, charged with felony in conspiring + plotting to murder David W. Brodnax + William Newsom being free white persons by giving to Anne a negro woman slave belonging to Martha Madill, powdered glass for the purpose of being given or administered to the said David W. Broadnax + William Newsome with the evil intent aforesaid

Present, Henry Wyche, John J Henton}

Law: G Heath, Thos. Dillihay} Justices

Richard R Mossi}

The court summoned for the trial of said Arena for the offence aforesaid, on Saturday the 22 Feby: 1840 failing to meet and the this being the County Court in course, was this day set to the bar in Custody of the sheriff of this County the said Arena charged afore with the felony aforesaid and being thereof arraigned upon her arraignment pleaded not guilty and for her trial put herself upon the Court, whereupon sundry witnesses being sworn as well on behalf of the commonwealth as the prisoner at the bar, and the prisoner at the bar being fully heard in her defense by John R Chambliss her counsel assigned by the court. The Court after hearing the testimony and all the circumstances of the case are unanimously of the opinion that the said Arena is guilty of the offense wherewith she stands charged, the Court therefore proceeded to pronounce the following sentence on the said Arena, that she be taken from hence to the jail of this County, there to remain till the 17 day of April 1840 thence to the place of execution between the hours of 10 oclock am + 4 oclock pm and that she be there hanged by the neck until she be dead, and it is ordered that the execution of this sentence be done by the sheriff of this County upon Arena. The Court values the said negro woman Arena to three hundred + seventy five dollars

———

Anne a negro woman slave the property of Mrs. Martha Madill a witness on behalf of the Commonwealth against Arena deposeth and saith, being first charged + sworn that on Sunday night the 2nd day of Feby: 1840 Arena gave her blue bottle glass, powdered in a rag about a table spoon ful, and told this deponent that on the next morning she must put it on Mr. William Newsoms butter or in the water when Newsom drank, and on said Monday at night, Arena came to this deponent and asked her if she had done what she had told her. This deponent said no mam. Arena then said to dept.if you wont do it, you must give it back to me + Arena then said to this deponent, I don’t intend to give it up. She would have her pay out of William Newsome.

Aggy, a negro girl slave the property of Susan Shepherd

Jim a negro man slave the property of Mrs. Susan Shepherd of this Court + witness in this case {illegible} seven deposeth + saith on Saturday the 2 Feby: 1840 he was at Dr. Brodnax where he lives has a wife + that he was starting home and Arena the prisoner called this deponent back + meet this deponent + gave him some blue bottle glass + to come to Dr. Merritts and get her Mothers Mortar + beat it up, This deponent asked the prisoner what she was going to do with it, prisoner said go on + beat it up, bring it to her then she would tell him, and instead of this deponents going to Dr. Merritts he went to Dr. Brown’s where his mistress lived and beat it up in Dr. Brown’s Mortar, on evening following Saturday night the 1st Feby 1840 he carried to the prisoner, I then asked her again what she was going to to do with it, Prisoner said that Mass David Brodnax had been driving her pretty hard + she meant to make it easier or harder one

This dept then said to her if I had known it I would not have given it to her, this deponent then asked if she meant to do harm with it-prisoner said no.

Aggy a negro girl salve the property of Mrs. Susan Shepperd of this County, a witness in this case on behalf of prisoner being first duly charged + sworn saith that she got Dr. Brown’s Mortar and of his spoon + carried it to Jim and gave it to Jim at the kitchen door of Dr. Browns on Saturday night the 1st Feb 1840 to beat the bottle glass in + further this dept saith not.

Henry Thweat a free man of color a witness in this case on behalf of the Commonwealth being first duly charged + sworn saith, That he works in the Blacksmith Shop at Dr. Brodnax’s that he went on Monday Evening up to the great House, and Ann a witness in this case said to you if you had came a little sooner she would have shown him a mess, Deponent asked her what for she Ann said that to kill a person, Deponent, said to Kill who? Me? Ann said no not you, to kill Mrs. Newsome, Deponent ask ? Ann why don’t she keep it + show it to the white folks. She said she forgot it but she was going to tell her Mistress (who was away when she came back + had not to say nothing about it, + further this deponent says not

Edward Joe Myrick a free man of color a witness in this case being first duly charged + sworn says on Monday morning 5 Feby 1840 he {illegible} Dr. Brodnax, sitting down in one of the kitchens, Ann came to you + showed about six egg shells full of powdered glass in a vase to this dept

First day of March 1840 for the trial of Jim a negro slave the property of Susan Shepherd

This deponent asked Ann if it was Salts she said no. he asked if it was Rats bane, she said no. Dep’t asked her who give it to her. She would not tell him, Ann took the glass put it in her bosom + this dep’t never saw any more of it—till today in court, further saith not

Dr. Orris A Browne, Dr. David W. Brodnax + Dr Spencer witnesses being first duly sworn concurred in the opinion that powdered glass as is exhibited in court taken into the stomach would probably produce death and further these deponents say not

Attest Wyche

Wm Blow Moss

Dillehay

Hinton

Heath

At a Court of Oyer and Terminer held at the Court House of Greensville County on Monday the 2nd day of March 1840 for the trial of Jim a negro slave the property of Susan Shepherd charged with felony

Present. Henry Wyche, John J. Hinton, Law: G. Heath, Thos. Dillehay}

Richd. R Moss, Thos. F. Jones} Justices

The Court summoned for the trial of Jim a negro slave the property of Susan Shepherd of this County on Saturday the 22nd Feby 1840 failing to meet, and this day being the County Court in course for said County. The said Jim was this day set to the bar in custody of the Sheriff of this County, and charged with having on the 2nd Feby: 1840 in said Co. feloniously conspired + plotted to murder Orris A Browne a free white person by putting powered glass in the water to be drank by the said Orris A Browne with the evil intent aforesaid, and being thereof arraigned upon his arraignment plead not guilty and for his trial put himself upon the court whereupon sundry witnesses being sworn as well on behalf of the Commonwealth as the prisoner at the bar and the prisoner being fully heard in his defense by John R Chambliss his counsel assigned by the Court

The Court after hearing the testimony and all the circumstances of the case are unanimously of the opinion that the said Jim is guilty of the offence wherewith he stands charged and thereupon the Court pronounced the following sentence that the said Jim be taken hence to the Jail of this County and there to remain till the 17th of April 1840, and on that day {illegible} be taken to thence to the place of execution between the hours of 10AM + 4 oclock PM of the same day to be hanged by the neck till he be dead and it is ordered that execu

Moses a negro man slave belonging to William C Batte of this County…

tion of this sentence be done upon the said Jim by the Sheriff of this County

The Court values the said negro Jim to seven hundred dollars

Aggy a negro slave the property of Mrs. S Shepherd a witness in this case being first duly charged and sworn says I gave Jim the mortar to beat the glass on Saturday the 2nd Feby 1840 which night he did beat it and put some of it in the pitcher (the next morning) of water where Dr. Brown commonly drank and that the prisoner gave the balance of the powdered glass to witness and told her to give it to him Dr. Browne that it would kill him as he wish to kill him to prevent him Dr. Browne from moving to the South, and that prisoner put it in the water to kill Dr. Browne {illegible} further says that the glass which prisoner gave her, that she on Sunday morning following put it in the same pitcher of water according to Jim’s direction

Moses a negro man slave belonging to William C Batte of this County, being first duly charged and sworn says: That he has a wife at Dr. Brownes + was there Saturday night the 1st day of Feby 1840, and saw Jim the prisoner beating up something in the mortar, having his hand over the mortar, up the stairs in the kitchen. Depent. asked prisoner what he was beating, he said he durned if he knew, deponent said nothing
+ came down stairs went in the garden, came back directly + saw Jim + Aggy between the great House + the kitchen in conversation depont asked Jim what he was doing out there talking to Aggy in the dark, Prisoner said to depnt clear out about your business Witness heard Prisoner + Aggy next morning very soon talking together in the kitchen and further he saith not

Dr. Browne being duly sworn is a witness in this case says that a quantity of glass taken into the stomach would probably produce death witness says he knows nothing of the charges agst prisoner but that on Tuesday morning he saw powdered glass in the pitcher of water about 2 tablespoons full + that if it had been taken into the stomach it would have produced death but {illegible} no fear of drinkng the water {illegible} the glass must have been in the water about an hour, Jim previously denied having beating any glass, or knowing any thing about it.

Mary H{illegible} being duly sworn says she saw powdered glass in ,the pitcher, did not know at the time it was glass, also saw the glass on Tuesday morning in the pitcher after it had been discovered by Dr. Browne + that it was the same substance she saw on the Sunday morning previous~

T. Dillehay H. Wyche

Thos. F. Jones Law G. Heath

RR Moss

…the prisoner being fully heard in her defence by John R. Chambliss her counsel…

At a Court of Oyer of Terminer held at the Court House of Greensville County on Monday the 2nd day of March 1840 for the trial of Aggy a negro slave the property of Susan Shepherd charged with felony

Present, Henry Wyche, Law G Heath, Thos. Dillehay

Richard R Moss, Thos. F Jones

The Court summoned for the trial of said Aggy on Saturday the 22nd Feby: 1840, failing to meet, and this day being the County Court in Course for said County, the said Aggy was this day set to the bar in custody of the Sheriff of this County, and charged with having on the 2nd day of Feby 1840 in said County feloniously, conspired and plotted to murder Orris A. Browne, Susan Shepherd and Susan Browne free white persons by putting powered glass in the water to be drank by the said Browne, Susan Browne + Susan Shepherd with the evil intent aforesaid, and being thereof arraigned and upon her arraignment pleaded not guilty and for her trial put herself upon the Court, whereupon sundry witnesses being duly sworn as well on behalf of the Commonwealth as the prisoner at the bar, and the prisoner being fully heard in her defence by John R Chambliss her council assigned by the Court, The Court after hearing the testimony and all the circumstances of the case are of opinion that the said Aggy is not guilty of the offence wherewith she stood charged, it is therefore ordered that she be acquitted from this prosecution.

H. Wyche

Blue Ground Glass. Take this potion. Show no emotion. Watch them fall…

The Genealogy Situation Room

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