Document Type



“for the murder of his own female slave, a woman named Mira...” : Law, Slavery and Incoherence in Antebellum North Carolina


“The death of culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling...”

Phillip Rieff

In the spring of 1839 a ‘slave owner,’ ­ Mr. John Hoover ­ was arrested for the brutal murder of his own ‘property,’ a young woman named Mira. Convicted of the capital charge by a jury of his peers ­ 12 fellow ‘slave owners,’ as the relevant law then required ­ his appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court was rejected in the most categorical of terms, and he was hanged for the offense, the following spring. Far from defining a ‘just’ outcome, I examine the case as a legal historical artifact, setting it in the context of the remarkable attending legal culture of its day, recovering it i! nstead as evidence of the beginning steps in the death of antebellum culture in North Carolina.

Conceived as a ‘legal history/law in society’ piece, in it I consider law as a discrete force in cultural development and nation building, spiritual in its essence and dynamic in its out-workings, for good or ill, depending upon the critical choices made. Considering both the foundational nature of jurisprudence and the essential power of law, I seek in the piece to remind the reader of its fundamental place in the life of any nation, and, therefore, the vital importance of ‘choosing well.’

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2006