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 151 - 200 of 1096
Name Deceased Description Date Inquest Location Death Method Inquest Finding
Clem slave, boy October 3, 1858 at Tabitha Abney's, Edgefield County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the aforesaid Lem[?] came to his death by the accident firing of a gun in his own hands

Collen Baskins August 4, 1885 at Josh Baskins, Chesterfield County, SC

upon their oaths, do say: Tat the Said Collen Baskins came to his death by being acly Drowned

colored colored May 9, 1872 at Ja's Turner's, Spartanburg County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the said infant. . .came to its death by misfortunte or accident

colored colored April 24, 1874 at Dr. J. A. Todd's, Anderson County, SC

do say that infant child came to its death by pressure on preroted[?] artery by stran of beads. . . by misfortune or accident

Cora Boyd May 18, 1892 at Beaverdam Church, Laurens County, SC

upon their oaths do say that She came to her death from the Effects of fire, That She died on the 17th inst. Having been burnt in a house on the plantation of M.B. Pool that was accidentally burnt down on the night of the 16th inst.

Cornelius Johnson at Samuel Johnson's Residence, Fairfield County, SC

upon their Oaths do say that the deceased came to his death [at] his Fathers house, on the 15 [Dec] 1892 from burns frm Accidentaly catching on f[ire][.]

Corvie Bowers July 24, 1885 at J S Blalocks place, Laurens County, SC lightning

upon their oaths do say that the aforesaid Corvie Bowers came to her death in Laurens County on the 23d day of July AD 1885 by a strike of Lightning.

Crafford Brantley November 4, 1927 at House in Chesterfield County, South Carolina, Chesterfield County, SC

upon there oathes do Say that Crafford Brantley came to His Death By accidental gun shot wound on Nov 4th at about 11 am 1927

Crispan Smith December 5, 1836 at the house of George Smith, Union County, SC

do say upon their oaths that he died by the visitation of god in a natural way by accidentaly getting frozen to death

Crosby Irby at Perry Irby's, Fairfield County, SC

upon their Oaths do say that the deceased came to his death at his home. . .from a gun shot wound accidently fired[.]

Cudjo Johnson November 29, 1875 at the Poor House, Fairfield County, SC

upon their oaths, do say: that the deceased came to his death by a gun shot wound in at the hands of Thomas N. Smart, and that the said Thomas N. Smart fired [in the dark] without intending to shoot deceased or any human being, but believed it was a dog or some other brute animal

Curry slave March 17, 1856 at Mrs Elizabeth Middletons Plantation, Edgefield County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the said Curry came to his death by accidental drowning

Cyrus slave September 15, 1860 at the shanty [?] upon the grounds of the Blue Ridge Rail Road Company at Anderson, Anderson County, SC train

do say that the said Cyrus came to his death by reason of coming into contact with a bridge over the track of the Blue Ridge Rail Road known as Hanson's [?] Bridge about seven miles from Anderson C. H. . . while on the top of of [sic] a freight car attending to the brake conguardely raised himself erect just as the train of came over & under said Bridge, causing his head to come in contact with the bridge from the affect of which blow his death ensued and...came to his death by misfortune or accident.

D. Stepp June 9, 1883 at Greenville, Greenville County, SC

upon their oaths do say that . . .the said D. W. Stepp came to his death by being drowned accidentally in the Mill Pond at Hutchinson's Tan Yard

Daisy Polk May 20, 1889 at Chesterfield CH, Chesterfield County, SC

upon thire oaths do Say That the said Daisy Polk came to her death by the accidental burning of the house

Dan Richardson June 28, 1890 at T.J. Sullivans Residence, Laurens County, SC

upon their oaths do say, that Dave Richardson came to his death from the inhalation of poisonous gas in a well on the premises of T.J. Sullivan

Daniel October 8, 1834 at Maj. John Blacks, Laurens County, SC

upon their oaths that from evidence that the said Negro came to his Death by Mischance by plunging into the River at or near the head of Maj. John Black's Millhouse in said District through fear dogs which were threatened by calling & encouraging of a Negro man, Doc, the property of Reginald Duncan by order of John Odell, supposing him to be a runaway.

Daniel Bragg February 6, 1815 at the plantation of Daniel Brag, Laurens County, SC

do say upon their oaths saith that on the 5th of this instant in striving to save a negroe man he got drowned.

Daniel Fountain Unknown, Fairfield County, SC

upon their oaths [do] say that he was shot accidentally by [a] pistol in the hands of his brother [?] Fountain about seven years old, about three Oclock yesterday evening and died [?] morning near Wallaceville[?].

Daniel Gallis January 31, 1819 at house of Daniel Gillis, Kershaw County, SC

do say upon their oaths that . . . by cutting down a oak he was accidentally struck by a limb of the said tree and instantly killed

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.

Danison[?] Gault July 25, 1837 at the plantation of Henry Gault, Union County, SC horse

do say upon their oaths that the said Danchsson[?] gault . . .died by the vissation of god by accident [?] kiled[?] by his horse and plans[?]

Dave slave February 6, 1830 at James Brockman's Mill, Spartanburg County, SC

upon their oaths do say that they think that he [died] with [?] in James Brockman's cotton gin

Dave negro man Slave March 16, 1849 at Kilcrease's Ferry, Edgefield County, SC boat

Upon their Oaths do say, that the said Dave came to his death by being drowned. . .by accidently falling out of a boat used for carrying and other produce to Market

David Adkinson June 9, 1894 on the Harris plantation near Clinton, Laurens County, SC train

upon their oaths do say that he (David Adkinson) Died from the Effects of a severe blow upon the right side of the head, being accidentally struck by the passing 10 oclock train on the G.C. &N. R.R. At the place known as the Harris place 3 1/2 miles N.E. of Clinton.

David Dantzler June 29, 1829 at Nazareth Meeting House, Spartanburg County, SC

do say upon their oaths after examination [that] he came to his death by accidental drowning

David Fowler October 2, 1891 on the Pyles place, Laurens County, SC

upon their oaths do say. That the said Daniel Fowler, Came to his death on the 1st day of Oct 1891 - in Laurens County, by being accidentally caught under a falling tree, mashing his head.

David Garison February 23, 1823 [?] the house of David Garison, Greenville County, SC

upon their oaths do say that they suppose the said David Garison get chilled to death from the inclemency of the weather and exposure.

David Griffin July 28, 1873 at T. H. Clark's plantation, Kershaw County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the said David Griffin came to his death by accidental drowning

David McClellan November 27, 1857 at residence of David McClellan, Anderson County, SC

do say that by the evidence of his wife & daughter that he was hunting a cow & found her mired was found dead near the cow lying across a pole from apperion[?] he had been trying to prize the cow out and we come to the conclusion that he came to his death by the fall

David Monson April 5, 1889 at Cheraw Bridge, Chesterfield County, SC

upon thire oaths do says that his death was caused by accidental drowning and he died on the 4 day of april 1889

David M[?] Elkin at Alston, Fairfield County, SC train

upon their oaths do say, We the jury compelled to inquire into the death of David M[?] Elkin do find that the said David M[?] Elkincame to his death at [?] Lexington Co by jumping from the cab on the freight train-while moving and was run over and killed, and the death of the said David M[?] Elkin was a misfortune and an accident.

David West boy January 30, 1862 at Graniteville, Edgefield County, SC

upon there oaths do say that it was by accidently drowning in the Graniteville Factory canel

Delila Tucker July 31, 1835 at the house of Isaac M Caffertys, Union County, SC

do say upon their oaths that the said Delila Tucker came to her death by [?] from the wounds probably caused by a fall from a fence

Della Jenkins February 13, 1904 [no location given], Chesterfield County, SC

[No official declaration]

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

Dick male slave July 13, 1859 at Ted Scurrys residence, Edgefield County, SC

upon there oaths do say. . .that he came to his death by going in to the Saluda River and got in Deep water an drowned

Dick slave May 25, 1843 at Camden boat yard, Kershaw County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the negro slave supposed to be Dick came to his death by drowning on Wednesday the 17th Instant at Camden boat yard

Dick Keith January 6, 1877 at George Lound's, Greenville County, SC

upon their oaths do say that the said Dick Keith came to his death by freezing to his death from exposure to the cold

Die December 23, 1836 at the corner of Mrs. Sarah Young's field, Laurens County, SC

do say upon their oaths that they believe her to have died by mischance, by freezing to death.

Dobydick Golding May 12, 1875 at Office Trial Justice Bird, Laurens County, SC

upon their oaths do say That the Deceased Dobydick Golding came to his death in the County & State aforesaid on Saturday May 8th AD 1875 by a Gun Shot wound with a Shot Gun in the hands of one Duck Miller alias Fuller and so the Jurors aforesaid upon their oaths aforesaid. Do say that the aforesaid Doby Dick Golding came to his death by mischance by accidental discharge of a double barrel shot gun very carelessly handled by one Duck Miller alias Fuller.

Dock F. Miller March 16, 1883 Spartanburg County, SC

upon their oaths aforesaid do say that the aforesaid Dec'd ... came to his death by misfortune or accident

Dolly Young child March 12, 1879 at Greenville, Greenville County, SC

upont their oaths do say that the said Dolly Young . . . came to her death by accident or smuthering or by misclued[?]

Dora Woods May 3, 1885 at Cheraw, Chesterfield County, SC

upon their oaths do say: "By accident or mishap by a fall from the banister or shelf of the piazza while playing there."

Dorcas Crossly December 4, 1857 at the house of John Wofford, Spartanburg County, SC

upon their oaths do say by falling the ifre and burning to death there being no person present at the time we suppose she had a fit as she was subject to having fits

Dorcas Page May 5, 1860 at Boykin's Mill, Kershaw County, SC
Dorothy Wise July 29, 1947 at Cheraw, S.C., Chesterfield County, SC truck

upon their oaths do say that Dorothy Wise received in Chesterfield County a mortal wound by_________ in the hands of E. W. English

Dozier Anderson June 16, 1882 at Clinton, Laurens County, SC train

upon their oaths do say that the said Dozier Anderson came to his death on the 14th day of June AD 1882 in Laurens County on the Laurens Rail Road in the discharge of his duties as a train hand on material train No 1 in the employ of and doing the work of the Columbia and Greenville Rail Road. And so we find that the aforesaid Dozier Anderson in manner and form aforesaid came to his death by misfortune or accident, which accident occured on the 13th day of June AD. 1882.

Duff Gist June 20, 1893 at Beaver Dam Church, Laurens County, SC

upon their oathes do say that the said Duff Gist came to his death from Congestion of the Bowels.

Duke negro man March 25, 1855 near Dennis Carpenters, Edgefield County, SC

upon their Oaths do say that the aforesaid negro slave name Duke. . .did come to his death from intemperance and exposure

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