A Finger Pointed: Tennessean Denied 1815 Paternity Claim

hand touching screen on white

Eve G’Fellows was unable to prove that William Gann was the father of her child. She made the mistake of revealing to others that this was a false accusation. 

By William R. Gann and Gary R. Toms
Copyright © 2000, 2005
Adapted and reprinted with permission from the Gann Gazette, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 1-6

On 22 June 1815, a single woman named Eve G’Fellows, of Washington County, Tennessee, made an oath before two justices of the peace and claimed:1

that she was delivered of a mail Basterd child on the 22nd day of February 1814 which child is likely to be chargable to the county aforesaid and doth accuse William Gann, labourer of the sd County with haveing begotten the sd child.

Once the finger of blame was pointed, the County had to act upon it and William Gann was summoned into court. At that time, most jurisdictions actively prosecuted men accused of fathering illegitimate children. Thus proven to be a father had to post a bond (commonly called a “bastardy bond”), guaranteeing support for the child. This served two purposes; it kept the burden of supporting the child off of the County (and thus off the taxpayers). It also probably gave some pause and discouraged some promiscuous conduct, by the knowledge that such could become public knowledge from an open court session at a later date.

In accordance with the County’s regular practice, a warrant was issued based on Eve G’Fellows’s statement, and on 22 July, William Gann had to post a personal recognizance bond “with sufficient security” to guarantee that he would appear in court to answer this charge.2 His appearance bond, which follows, guaranteed by him and his father, Adam Gann, planter. The term planter is a courtesy title, indicating that Adam is an established property owner, a farmer who owns his land. William Gann is identified as a laborer, showing that he has not yet amassed a significant amount of property. The one hundred dollar bond that William had to post would be equal to $963.90 in today’s money. The bond, states, in part:3

. . . William Gann labourer of said County and Adam Gann of said County planter came before us Jonathan Collom and Wm. Mitchell two of the acting Justices of peace in an for said [County] and Acknowledge themselves indebted to the State (viz) the said William Gann in the sum of one hundred Dollars and the said Adam Gann in the sum of fifty Dollars to be respectively levied on their goods and chattels lands and tenements to the use of the State if the said William Gann shall make Default in the performance of the condition under written this condition of this recognizance is such that whereas Eave Fellows was delivered of a Male Basterd Child on the 22nd day of February 1814 which Child is likely to be chargeable to said County and the said Eave Fellows on her oath aforesaid having charged the said William Gann of haveing begotten the said Child now if the said William Gann shall personally appear before the Justices of the court of pleas and quarter sessions to be held for the said County at the court house in Jonesborough on the first Monday in August next. . .

Since William was the accused and Eve had already given her testimony, these witnesses were summoned on his behalf. A subpoena issued 31 July 1815 summoned Barbara Barnhart, Sarah Barnhart and Coonrad Barnhart on behalf of William Gann, defendant.4

Unfortunately, not everything went as planned, even in a court case. Due to some misconnections, the Sheriff did not serve the subpoena before William’s court date. This situation is explained in an affidavit made on 10 August 1815:5

William Gann maketh oath that Conrad Barnhart, Barbara Barnhart, & Sally Barnhart who reside in Greene County, are material witnesses in his behalf at the trial in above Cause that this Deponent took out a Sobpoena, in due time, directed the sheriff of Greene County & placed it in the hands of Val Sevier, Esq. of Greenville who promised that, that day, which was on Tuesday last was a week he would give it to the Sheriff to execute but before this Deponent left it in his hands he searched Diligently for the Sheriff and could not find him that the subpoena is returned that the summons came too late to hand to execute. He further states, that he cannot come safely to trial without their Testimony & Has reason to believe he can prove it at next court, he further states he can prove by said witnesses that Eve Fellers confessed to said witnesses that the said child was not begotten by the Deponent, & That it has not blood of this deponent’s in its veins, & Further he can prove that said Eve charged other persons with being the father of said child.

William’s first subpoena for witnesses was issued 31 July, but it was not delivered in time for the Court hearing. In his appeal (the affidavit above), William received an extension. Even though the three witnesses could have proved his innocence on their own, he continued in his efforts to strengthen his position, perhaps concerned that he might be unable to get the original witnesses to court. William had another subpoena issued since he got his case continued. In court on the first Monday in August of 1815, a subpoena was issued to the Sheriff of Washington County for three more witnesses:6

You are hereby commanded to summon Henry Glaze, Peggy Snapp & Barbara Harman to appear before the Justice of next County Court of pleas and Quarter sessions to be holdin at the Court House in Jonesborough on the first Monday in November next to give Testimony in the behalf of William Gann in a matter of Controversy in said court Defending wherein Eve Fellows is Plaintiff and Wm. Gann Defendant.

Also in preparation for the November court session, another subpoena was issued on 7 November 1815 to the Sheriff of Greene County for the Barnharts and Sarah Fox to appear on William’s behalf:7

You are hereby commanded to summon Conrad Barnheart, Barbara Barnhart & Sarah Fox8 to appear before the Justices of our next County Court to be holdin at the Courthouse in Jonesborough on the first Monday in November next to give Testimony in the behalf of William Gant [sic] in a certain Matter of Controversy wherein Eve Fellows is plaintiff and William Gann Defendant.

For some reason, the matter was carried over from November to the March term; the records are not clear as to the reason. In preparation for dealing with this case, the court ordered a transcript to be prepared on 11 March 1816.9

In this cause of the Court demunition of the record is suggested and on motion of atty [attorney] for the State it is ordered by the court that a Certiorari immediately issue to the clerk of the county court of Washington commanding him to certify to the present term of this court a complete transcript in the above cause.

The transcript that was ordered by the Court played an important role. The Court reviewed that record in detail, then listened to the arguments of both sides, and then rendered its decision. It appears that the entire matter was set aside on a technicality, perhaps something found in the transcript. The reason that the charges were not made in proper form because Eve failed to state for the record where the child was born. The Court, failing to find this information in its review of the transcript and apparently not hearing it in the testimony, released William from all charges. However, the State then appealed by way of a writ of error and another court session was scheduled:10

This cause having come on today to be argued and the court having seen and inspected the record of the proceeding and having heard argument of counsel on both sides and it appearing to be satisfaction of the court from the record of the proceedings here brought that there is error in the record of the proceeding in this cause in this that it does not appear from the face of the record sent here that there is any place stated ins aid record where the Child was born which aught to have been stated and charged. It is therefore considered by the court that the proceedings in this cause in the county court be set aside and that the defendant go hence without day [delay] from which opinion of the court — [ink blot]—attorney for the State prays an appeal in the nature of a writ of Error and it is allowed.

Based on the writ of error, the Court heard this matter again at the September Term in 1816. A writ of supersedeas set aside the Certiorari previously granted. The Court gave William Gann the right to go forth and recover his costs from Eve, since he was the wronged party:11

For reason shown it is ordered by Court that the writ of & Supersedeas to set aside Certiorari granted in this cause be dismissed, whereupon it is considered by the court that the defendants go hence without day [delay] and recover of the plaintiff their cost in his behalf expended.

In other words, the plaintiff—Eve G’Fellows—was unable to prove that William Gann was the father of her child. She made the mistake of revealing to other parties that this was a false accusation, “that it has no blood of this deponents in its veins.” William Gann also had witnesses who could state that Eve had charged other persons as the father of this child. Did she really know? At any rate, William Gann was successful in his defense and was awarded costs, but collecting any money from a single woman at this time was probably impossible.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

  1. Box 278, no. 35, Washington County Court Records, Archives of Appalachia, Sherrod Library, East Tennessee State University, Johnston City, Tennessee. (Hereafter WCCR.)
  2. WCCR, Box 278, no. 35.
  3. Ibid.
  4. WCCR, Box 239, no. 9.
  5. WCCR, Box 231, no. 22.
  6. WCCR, Box 239, no. 9.

  7. Ibid.
  8. Sally Barnhart of the May, 1815 subpoena is now Sally Fox, having married Ezikel Fox on 5 September 1815 in Greene County, Tennessee. William Gann or his attorney was wise to get the correct name on this subpoena. (Byron and Barbara Sistler, Early East Tennessee Marriages, Vol. 1 [Nashville: Byron Sistler & Associates, 1987], p. 123.)
  9. Washington County Court Minutes, 1815-1816, p. 16.
  10. Washington County Court Minutes, 1815-1816, p. 20.
  11. Ibid., p. 27.