Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Reeves' Family Murder

In 1847 in Orange County, North Carolina, Spencer Reeves killed his sister, Harriet. Local history attributes Spencer's violence against his sister to the fact that they owned a large amount of land inherited from their father, George Reeves, Jr., as tenants in common. Although something of a spinster at age 28, Harriett was planning to marry which would have meant that her share of the land would pass into her husband's hands, preventing Spencer's access to and/or control of the property. The case is recorded in the Criminal Action Papers for Orange County, located at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History in Raleigh.

Various sources have interpreted the date of death on Harriett's gravestone as 1817; however, the 1820 census of Orange County records both of George Reeves' children, one male age 0-10 and one female age 0-10 as having been born between 1810 and 1820. Based upon the inscription of the tombstone that she was 28 years old at her death, she was apparently born in 1819 which agrees with the census data. The inscription on the tombstone is apparently meant to be 1847 but the four has degraded over time and appears as a one.

Harriett and her brother, Spencer Stuart Reeves, were the children of George Reeves, Jr. and Sarah whose maiden name is said to have been Stuart. George died in 1825 and in 1832 his widow Sarah married Thomas Durham. In 1838 the land of George Reeves, Jr., deceased, - 530 acres, was divided between "Spencer S. Reeves and Harriet Reeves his only heirs-at-law." (Deed Book 28, page 208) The documents also mention the widow's dower line in this division indicating that Sarah Reeves Durham had already received a one-third share of George Reeves' land.

Harriett's murder wasn't the first time Spencer Reeves had committed an offense for which he was tried. In an earlier court case of 1841, Spencer was charged with having stolen the horse of two men named Bynum. In that case, Spencer's mother, Sarah, and Harriet pleaded with the court to show mercy to Spencer and forgive his crime. The Bynums agreed to drop the charges and Spencer was allowed to go free and receive no punishment.

Spencer's mother Sarah Durham's will written in 1847 mentions that a minimal amount from her estate was to be used for his support and maintenance if he should be acquitted from the charge alleged against him. According to Orange County local history, Spencer Reeves was hanged for the crime and buried outside of the family cemetery.

Information regarding Spencer Reeves trial from the research of Victoria Bynum, Department of History, Texas State University, San Marcos as posted to the Reeves GenForum.

(Photo submitted to Find A Grave by Lost History.)

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