Accident

Accidents were the leading cause of death in the CSI:D sample, and drowning was the leading cause of death among mortal accidents. There are myriad reasons why. Broad swaths of the American public did not know how to swim. Primary modes of transportation, especially early in the century, involved river routes. Mill ponds were prevalent. Children played outside—generally a good thing but occasionally a sad one. Perhaps the saddest of these incidents involved a mass May Day drowning at Boykin Mill Pond in 1860. Twenty-eight teenagers set off on a raft that hit a snag and more than twenty-five drowned, including all five children from one family. Sadder still may be the case of Noah Wesley Dawkins. In mid-June 1888, Dawkins and his friends, all African Americans, set off for a local watering hole where they ran into three white boys, one of whom offered Dawkins fifty cents if he would walk into a particular area in the creek, assuring him it wasn’t deep. It was deep, and Dawkins drowned. It is tempting to classify this as a homicide, but it is clear from testimony that the white children thought they were playing a cruel trick, not a deadly one.


In the South Carolina sample, which skews antebellum, the most common accident was a failure to learn how to swim.

Alcohol was such a critical indirect cause in so many of the accidental drownings, shootings, fires, and falls in CSI:D that it really ought to be regarded the deadliest force in nineteenth century South Carolina. In addition to these indirect roles, alcohol was the direct cause of accidental death in more than sixty cases. It was probably also a direct cause in many of the ‘exposure’ cases—bodies that were discovered outside and were thought to have died from exposure to the elements.

Nineteenth century law enforcement had no recourse to blood-alcohol tests. Even today, determining precise BACs postmortem, and working back from those to levels of inebriation at time of death, is fraught with difficulty. This meant that nineteenth-century coroners had to rely exclusively on witness testimony and the known habits of the deceased to determine alcohol’s role in producing death. Standing around a dead man, jurors found themselves passing judgment on just how drunk he had been the night before. According to witnesses, John Goodlett “seemed to be drunk.” John Agner was “sorry he was drunk.” Abe Waganan was “very funny & lively”—very drunk as [was] his custom.” Is ‘very drunk’ drop-dead drunk? It is hard to know. On the night of January 15, 1816, Angus McQueen drank more than half a gallon of spirits. “The dec’d was very much intoxicated,” noted one witness, “and fell down four times during which time he vomited upon the carpet.” Because McQueen kept getting up and falling down, the jurors determined that the falls (and the winter cold) contributed to his demise, though it is equally possible that McQueen died of alcohol poisoning. Juries were more likely to fix upon ‘intemperance’ as a clear cause of death if the deceased was a notorious addict. In December 1842, H. P. Church was discovered by his land-lady sprawled half on and half off of his bed. A “habitual drunkard” who had been continuously drinking for two weeks, she did not even bother to try and shake him awake. The inquest did not hesitate in finding that Church had died of intoxication.

The third leading cause of accidental deaths were ‘vehicular’ accidents, a catch-all category that includes drunken falls from a train and sober buckings from a horse. Further complicating this picture is the fact that many of the drownings probably belong in this category. There is little difference between falling unwitnessed off of a train and off of a boat, except that in one case you land on tracks and are quickly found where in the other you wash downstream, far from the site of the accident.

Bartholomew Darby was thrown from the saddle and hit his head on a stump, his wagon then “running over his head ... & breaking his neck & deeply cutting him under the right ear.”; Steve Yeldell fell out of his cart and broke his neck.

All such accidents pale in comparison to the staggering mortality brought to South Carolina by train. Richard Springs was “run over by a train.” Fannie Ford was “run over by a train.”A slave named Sam was “Run over by [a] train.” Almost as soon as trains arrived in these counties, there were sots to fall off of them, laborers to be crushed by them, and depressives to jump in front of them. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a technological innovation responsible for a sharper uptick in the per capita death rate. It is also clear that coroners and inquest juries were unprepared for the level of bodily violence meted out by train. The body of a slave named Berry was “very much mashed and limbs and bones severed.” William Abbott’s body was “mangled, bruised, cut and crushed.” Even so coroners and their juries were often at pains to absolve the railroad itself of any wrong-doing. Hosea Jackson “came to his death by his own carelessness and from no carelessness whatever on the part of the engineer.” The crushing of William Roberts was likewise “not caused by any dereliction of duty on the part of the rail-road employees.” With train accidents we see for the first time the question of corporate responsibility, and potential corporate liability, creeping into the inquest process.

The larger point, however, is a physical one. Moving the body at a faster speed than the body was designed to go is an enormous convenience that has to be paid for. Today vehicular accidents (car, motorcycle, and all-terrain-vehicle) are the fourth-leading cause of death among Americans after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The nineteenth century was not particularly different, except that families moved by horse, wagon, and train—and died less often of cancer.

Fourteen-year old George Nettles sought to break up the dogs by bashing one of them with the butt of his gun. Instead the gun discharged into Spradley’s face.

The fourth leading cause of accidental death in the CSI:D sample involved the discharge of firearms. Some were simple cases of men who were cleaning or handling weapons that suddenly went off. The vast majority of cases, however, involve an unfortunate bystander. In 1849, Tilman Attaway was mistaken for a turkey by his hunting buddy. In 1808, James Spradley was leaning in to watch two dogs fight over a dead deer. Fourteen-year old George Nettles sought to break up the dogs by bashing one of them with the butt of his gun. Instead the gun discharged into Spradley’s face. As this case attests, guns and children made as disastrous a pairing then as they do now. In 1820 ten-year old Mancel King accidentally shot and killed his brother. In 1899 ten-year old John McManus shot and killed his friend. “I was fooling with the pistol and it went off,” he told the inquest.

Undoubtedly some of these gun-related ‘accidents’ were not accidents at all. A dead man alone in a room might have been cleaning his gun, or he might have harbored hidden miseries. Similarly some of the accidental misfires on bystanders were probably intentional homicides. Unless new evidence emerges at this late date, however, such cases will have to remain categorized as accidents.

The fifth leading cause of death by accident in the CSI:D sample was death by suffocation—another category that speaks more to what a coroner was called to investigate than to what people actually died from. A majority of the ‘smothering’ deaths were probably SIDS victims. In white households such cases would not have been investigated—infant mortality was relatively high in the period and a white family’s ‘dear pledges’ were often ‘recalled to God.’ But in a society where every slave child was as potentially valuable as a Lexus, infant death in the quarter was more rigorously investigated. Coupled with deep prejudices against slaves as mothers, inquests typically found that an unnamed “negro Child” was “negligently Smothered” by its mother, or that the slave child Lora was “accidentally smothered” in the family bed, or that the slave children Henry and Alcy were crushed in the night, having being “overlaid” by their parents. It is possible that such ‘negligence’ did occur among overworked and overtired slaves, and such findings were far preferable to those cases where enslaved parents were charged with infanticide.

The sixth leading cause of death by accident in the CSI:D sample was death by fire. Most homes in the period were made of wood. Most had fireplaces. None had a fire extinguisher. Fire was light and life, but it was also occasionally death. In 1866 a freedman named Sloan was burnt to death in a gin house. In 1890 a child named Julia Hightower wandered too close to the family fireplace. Her younger sister tried to dowse her with water to no avail.

These six types of accidental death—drowning, alcohol abuse, transportation mishaps, gun miscues, suffocations, and fires—account for 75% of the accidental deaths in the CSI:D sample. Other relatively common accidents involved falling trees and limbs, industrial accidents, and poisonings and overdoses. Rounding out the sample were accidents that were more unique. Home alone, Medora Williams had an epileptic seizure and fell into her own fireplace. Traveling with the Bailey & Company circus, George West was gored by his own elephant. (Some might not consider this an ‘accident’ since the elephant had ‘cause’; and acted with ‘intent.’)

NEXT: Natural Causes

 

Accident Inquests

Displaying 251 - 300 of 1096
Name Deceased Description Date Inquest Location Death Methodsort ascending Inquest Finding
Willie Ford July 1, 1935 [no location given], Chesterfield County, SC baseball

[No official declaration]

Murray P. Humphrey March 3, 1937 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say Murray P. Humphrey received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by car and wagon collision in the hands of some bring unavoidable accident

Devoid Gulledge September 10, 1942 at Patrick, S.C, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Devoid Gulledge received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Transport Truck in the hands of Gordon Deardorff

L. J. Atkinson October 16, 1944 at McBee, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Lona Atkinson, L. J. Atkinson & Carolyn Atkinson received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Car driven by Miss Thelma Moore in the hands of Thelma Moore

LeRoy Hancock December 15, 1936 at Mt. Croghan, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Leroy Hancock received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile in the hands of James C. Crawford

Elizabeth Hughes December 26, 1935 at McBee, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

that Elizabeth Hughes received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by unavoidable automobile accident in the hands of Mrs. Rubye Brown on the 22 day of December 1935, and that from such mortal wound deceased died in Camden Hospital

Joseph Homer Lavinge July 5, 1940 at Jefferson, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Joseph Homer Lavinge received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile Wreck in the hands of Billie Nicholson

Miss Lona Atkinson October 16, 1944 at McBee, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Lona Atkinson, L. J. Atkinson & Carolyn Atkinson received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Car driven by Miss Thelma Moore in the hands of Thelma Moore

Joshua Johns May 17, 1937 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Joshua Johns received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Fred W. Hinson with automobile in the hands of anautomobile accident

Mma Mildred McDonald September 30, 1935 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Mia Mildred McDonald received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by being struck by an automobile in the hands of Frank Stokes, Jr.

Harvey Black July 8, 1941 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Harvey Black received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile in the hands of Daniel S. McNeil

Theodore Niveis September 17, 1941 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Alexander Jackson Theodore Niveis received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by ______ in the hands of by Drowning

Flora Bell Ford October 18, 1948 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Flora Bell Ford received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Ford Automobile in the hands of William Sanders

Leola Sellers June 20, 1932 at W. A. Sellers in Cole hill, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths, do say: that Cola Sellars came to his death struck by a car Diven by Marion Johnson

Sam King February 13, 1948 at McBee, S. C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Sam King received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Car in the hands of Miltard E. Gilbert. . . The Said Mr. Sam King Came to his death by a car driven by Mr. M. E. Gilbert & recommend he be not held responsible (unavoidable)

Hampton Stokes October 13, 1941 at McBee, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Hampton Stokes received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by being hit by automobile accidently in the hands of Mrs. Grace M. Stetzel

Fletcher Forest Hankins June 18, 1941 at Jefferson, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

[No official declaration]

Robert Paul Harden April 5, 1948 at McBee, S. C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Robert Paul Harden received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Collison with truck in the hands of J. H. Harman . . . The jury recommends that J. H. Harman not be held responsible

Helen Boykin August 4, 1936 at Middendorf, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Beauregard Alson & Helen Boykin received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile Collision at the hands of Robert Davis

Jessie Lee Jordon August 25, 1941 at Pageland, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Jessie Lee Jordon received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile in the hands of Joe Watts, Jr.

Fannie Dennis March 6, 1950 at Cheraw, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Farris Dennis received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Car-Truck Collision in the hands of Tim Robinson

Martin Gary Kennington December 23, 1934 at Pageland, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Martin Gary Kennington received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile collision in the hands of Walker Edgworth same being unavoidable accident

H. R. McLeod June 7, 1932 at McBee, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths aforesaid, do say, that the aforesaid H.R. McLeod came to his death by means of an accident unavoidable

Alexander "Boyd" Jackson September 17, 1941 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Alexander Jackson Theodore Niveis received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by ______ in the hands of by Drowning

Samuel Garry July 19, 1930 at Juniper, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

We find Samuel Garry came to his death by an unavoidable accident

Tellman Shaw December 16, 1934 at McBee, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Tellman Shaw received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile in the hands of Thos H. Boyle unavoidable accident

W. B. Bladen December 4, 1929 at Middendorf, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths, do say: He came to his death by being struck by a car being driven by Toby P Brown - accidentally

Beauregard Alson Jr. August 4, 1936 at Middendorf, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Beauregard Alson & Helen Boykin received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile Collision at the hands of Robert Davis

Leonard E. Hurst August 22, 1929 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths, do say: that he came to his death by reckless driving by himself

Hardy Lindsay February 16, 1937 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Hardy Lindsay received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Motor Vehicle in the hands of parties unknown

Wallace [no location given], Chesterfield County, SC automobile

[No official declaration]

James Lynch December 29, 1945 at Mt Croghan, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that James Lynch received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by J. U. Eudy Car Accident in the hands of J. U. Eudy - Unavoidable

Grafton Mims December 14, 1936 [no location given], Chesterfield County, SC automobile

[No official declaration]

Tom Oliver January 23, 1940 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Heck Curry, Tom Oliver, Lennie Pope received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile collision in the hands of Heck Curry

Hester Johnson Shaw July 19, 1947 McBee, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Mrs. Hester Johnson Shaw received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Pontiac Automobile in the hands of Sgt. James Holly

John Rushing July 3, 1937 at City Hall, Pageland, South Carolina, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

We the undersigned Coroner and Jury find that John Rushing came to his death by auto-wagon col in the hands of Olin Lowery

Lennie Pope January 24, 1940 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Heck Curry, Tom Oliver, Lennie Pope received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile collision in the hands of Heck Curry

Earnest Tolson August 31, 1937 at Patrick, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Earnest Tolson received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Stuck By Automobile Motor in the hands of Edward Tolson (accidental means)

James David Mauldin April 8, 1946 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that James David Mauldin received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Automobile in the hands of Herman Vaughn

Daniel Sams Jr. April 8, 1924 at Black Creek, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

the Verdict of the Jury and Medical examination that the said Danial Sams came to his Death by Misfortune and Accident, by Ford Car, The Said Daniel Sams jr Resides in Hoffman N.C.

Faye Bennett February 6, 1938 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Faye Bennett received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Being struck by automobile in the hands of J. M. McDonald

John Davis June 19, 1939 at Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that John Davis received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile collision in the hands of Wilson Smith

Adolphus E. Tucker August 11, 1943 at Ruby, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Adolphus E. Tucker received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Ford Car in the hands of J. C. Hinson

Ida Edwards October 1, 1938 [no location given], Chesterfield County, SC automobile

[No official declaration]

Fred Hanna November 27, 1939 at Ruby, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Fred Hanna received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by automobile in the hands of T. G. Griggs, Jr.

Charlie Myers April 19, 1939 at Pageland, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Charlie Myers received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Stuck by automobile in the hands of Thomas Gregory

Charlie Nivers June 2, 1936 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Charlie Nivers received in _____ County a mortal wound by Struck by automobile in the hands of Earle Goodman

Carolyn Atkinson October 16, 1944 at McBee, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Lona Atkinson, L. J. Atkinson & Carolyn Atkinson received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by Car driven by Miss Thelma Moore in the hands of Thelma Moore

Lola W. Curry December 8, 1943 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

upon their oaths do say that Lola W. Curry received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by 1935 Ford Car in the hands of Abraham Parsons

Emma Ellerbe April 6, 1925 at McBee, Chesterfield County, SC automobile

the verdict was brought out. . .That one Emma Ellerbe in manner and form aforsaid came to her death by misfortune and Accident. By being struck by auto accidently.

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