"I will be damned if any white man shall be master over me"
Transcription of trial record in the case of the Commonwealth v. Reuben, Greenbrier County, May 27, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Pardons, June 1861, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.
On May 27, 1861, in the western mountain county of Greenbrier, a court convicted an enslaved man named Reuben of conspiring "to rebel and make insurrection in said county." The court heard testimony that Reuben had said that he and other enslaved men could take Lewisburg after their masters left on military duty. The court also heard evidence that loaded pistols and weapons were found in Reuben's cabin. The court convicted Reuben and sentenced him to be hanged.
Since the 1690s in Virginia, trials of slaves accused of criminal offences were tried by the judges without a jury. The justices of the peace set a market value on the convicted prisoner in order that the state government could compensate the owner for the loss of his laborer. Governor John Letcher made two notations on the trial transcription: "Recd June 6. 1861 JL"; and on June 10, 1861, the governor ordered the paper "filed" and took no action on Reuben's behalf, letting stand the sentence that Reuben be hanged.