Attorney General W.P. Bocark's Opinion Regarding the Bureau of Public Works' Liability for Slaves Killed on Blue Ridge Railroad, November 1, 1854

When two slaves were killed on the Blue Ridge Tunnel project, slaveholders held the Virginia Board of Public Works, which had hired slaves through contractors, liable for the losses. Affidavits were taken on the value of the slaves, their character and history. The Attorney General of Virginia, W. P. Bocock, ruled that whether the slaves were killed on the Virginia Central Rail Road Co. or the Blue Ridge project was immaterial, and that the Board of Public Works was liable for reasonable compensation to the slaveholders.

Garland & Wood o. B. of P. Works

Mr. Murray for [left] was engineman in charge of the tunnel belonging to Central R Road. Was ordered previous [every] to have engine ready to go up for load of dirt early. Went up found negroes there, loaded & went on had cars in front [deliver than] proper place to have them as went up. Had to back turn backwards on return no brakes on cars going down loaded the bolt pin broke & cars ran on down hill & got great head way ran on & struck a hand car on the track & injured 3 negroes 2 dead. He hollored [sic] to hands to jump off, but some did not

Hand brake to tender none to any other car. As cars struck the curve going down loaded, grade about 70 feet & dirt cars in front of engine told the brakeman to put down his brake, and that checked speed some where upon the dirt cars broke lapse supposes the half pin was cracked before but don't know, never saw it since broke. Had previously hauled dirt that way had very frequently done so sometimes hauled one way some times the other according to convenience.

Says he went up to Staunton the evening before & carried after he was done his days work & took a load of sand to a private gentleman by order of Mr. Netherland superintendent of Centl rail Co. Was under impression when first spoke that had been hauling day before from towards Waynesboro to the bank but now on reflection thinks was hauling from same plain each of embankment. & now thinks dirt cars were behind the engine going up to Staunton & were changed at Staunton.

No engineer of B R R Co direct him that he knows of and know any of those engineers worked under the order of no one that I know of but Mr. Netherland he was put there over [us]

If had been told to run train differently we have done so.

Accident happened 6 Apl. Has settled & recd wages for that month. Settled with Mr. Gaira treasr. of Central rail R. & recd pay from him.

Have used cars very little since then, have not hauled any thing for the state since the accident happened Have hauled wood & to Staunton & hauled freight from the mountain in the usual way

Train was differently situated & engine down hill the day before while hauling for state & its change of position took place at Staunton and was occasioned by the Trip to Stn. Might have changed it again in the morning on return to Waynesboro but had no hands sufficient.

His orders were recd. from Mr. Netherland & from him only. The orders were to go over & haul dirt from the state. & this he understood reqd him to get the dirt where they ordered & to put it where they wished No other person gave him orders. Yet if the officers of the B R R R had given him directions as to how he should run his train, thinks he would have followed them. Netherland sent him at night with load of sand.

When accident happened train was on the west side of the bridge and a little west of the depot at Waynesborough, the hand car on the track belonged either Mr Warton or Mr. Goodloe hopes for the Centl. R R Co.

Mr. Slaughter,

hired the negroes from Mr. Garland Mr. Woods & Mr. Filman, for B. R. R. R.Co. at request of Col. Crozet gave bonds or notes or written contract of hiring to each except to Mr. Garland that was made at same day with others about 9 Jan & contract same with all.

Mr. Filman's negro he thought at first to lie very seriously injured, but he walked home the other day has none of his limbs broken can't tell what is his real injury.

At time negroes were hired did not expect to run then on a Train, but no agreement as to the particular kind of work, had hired the year before & no engines used.

Thinks the accident was owing altogether to the change Mr. Murray made in his Train putting the engine above the cars instead of below or down hill This must have been neglect or [unthoughtedness], it was certainly wrong.

Mr. Harris. in service of Mr. Slaughter his foreman on blue Ridge R. Road was not exactly on the road at the time the accident happened. Mr. Murray was to have met him there at 5, with his train, witness was there at 5 and waited till 6. Train not coming he went to breakfast & told the hands if the train came to load it, afterwards it came, & was loaded & started down witness saw it start & went towards it it broke loose in a little cut.

Train had hauled for B R. R. R. the day before wednesday part of the previous day, Tuesday, and had been run always previous to that with the engine below or down hill from the cars. This witness thinks was safer than other way & if he had been present that morning wd have insisted to have them same way Train has not run for the B. R. R. R. since. Witness had orders from Mr. Slaughter whose foreman he is, to go on every train down & did go with every one. but this, the train was under the management of the engineman in many fireman who came with it & the hands under witness loaded & unloaded, as many as needful aren't with witness on the train to unload, & returned on the train. The negroes injured

Mr. Woods

Only knows in regard to his brother Mr. Woods' hand the agreement. It was the kind of work that Mr. Slaughter was to be engaged in that induced his brother to hire It was to break rock to Mcadamize the road & Mr. Slaughter said there would be little or no danger. Mr. Farrow was willing to give as much or more for them to work on the tunnel & have lives insured. But was not willing as he sd to put negroes lives in jeopardy for a few dollars even with their lives ensured & was the distinct understanding with Mr. Slaughter that the negroes were to be employed the whole year in ballasting & finishing up the road. Witness understood this to mean breaking rock & Mcadamizing witness was present when brother hired negroes, they both hired at same time & same bargain, they had always been hired together if understood negroes were to be used in running up & down grades don't think they would have hired them.

was offered same for hands on central Road Knew Mr. Slaughter was careful & responsible man, and don't think now that Mr. Slaughter thought he was departing from the spirit of the contract when he put the hands to this work. But the impression on Witness's mind was that they were to be employed in breaking up rock & McAdamizing the State's work Knows nothing of the accident.

Mr. Smith:

Had hands hired to the state, asked to state what the bargain was in his case says he had been spoken to some days before about getting his hands to work with this engine. Had a a contract on the Blue Ridge Road and about forty hands. Was to have left home on Sunday for Richd. but did not, Mr. Howard one of the engineers, on the B R. R. R. came over to see him on Sunday evening about getting his hands and told him there would be no danger. Asked Mr. Howard how the engine was to run if above or below the train. He said certainly below. If had been to run above wd not have let his hands go. But did agree to let his hands go & they did go on tuesday two days before accident happened. Told them if the cars were put below the engine they were to leave. Being asked by compels counsel says if it was not different from what a prudent man wd have done to put the cars there says don't know thinks a prudent man some times acts without thinking & so sometimes does an imprudent thing thinks the act was imprudent. Was in Richd when accident happened.

Doct. Mr. R. Woods was in company with one the gentlemen seeking Mr. Slaughter After Colo Crozet & all persons who could give information after the accident met Mr. Slaughter & he stated Colo. Crozet had made a statement of all the facts fairly & that statement was shown to witness Mr Slaughter further said the accident was he thought the result of negligence and might have been avoided that if the cars had been run above the engine it would not have happened, & he thought the owner ought to be paid & Colo Crozet at Brooksville, said afterwards it was a hard case & there ought to be compensation in some way probably the legislature Wd pay. Knows nothing about bargain or accident.

Mr. Slaughter resnd.

On tuesday morning he & Mr. Howard were expecting the train to come over to haul if was hauling dirt then from the other or Waynesboro side & with the hands of the C. R. R. Co. they waited for it till after 12. & say Mr. Netherland and were told by him that the train wd not be over till next morning. He & Howard then left & came across the mountain Howd. gave witness instructions as to where dirt was to be got & when [?] & witness gave [?] to Mr. Harris train did come that eveng & made [Gland] never saw the train while it was heading for B. Ridge rail road. Started back over there Thurday morning & met the intelligence that the hands had been killed.

Contract

Was to give 150 for negro Cloths & give hat & blanket & hands were to be at work on state work in finishing unfinished part of the road was not authorized to make any special contract with particular men for their hands or to make any contract different from what the hands or notes set out.

exd by [compets] counsel, says the representation about [?] witnesses as to his saying hands would be safe & were correct he thinks for he thought they would be safe nothing was said about using them on trains for witness did not think of any thing of that kind being done, & if he had wd have mentioned it he thinks if he had thought of it.

Colo Crozet

Mr. [Aylitt] engineer of Central Road wrote & spoke to witness about the advantage of having a train to haul dirt and said he would [?] to have a strong force & wrote that he wd furnish a train for 15H a month provided he would make himself responsible for any accident to engine or train this witness declined. After this witness saw Colo. Fontaine of Central R R. and agreed with him & to take the train at $15 a day & to be responsible for any accident that might be the result of his interference or of those under his orders for that reasons he was careful to interfere with the management of the train by the engineer and fireman sent by the Central R. R. Co in charge of the engine & train.

When the train came for some reason unknown to witness, the cars when they came were without breaks.

Witness thinks there was not so much risk in the train going down as they did though it would certainly have been safer the other way but the fact was that the descent was made safely the speed attained was not beyond what is common for trains on R. Road probably about 30 miles an hour and it was the [hands] on the track on the other side of the bridge that produced the accident.

Claims for compensation have been presented against the Board of P. Works by Garland & Wood of Albemarle for slaves hired by the claimants to the Board, & killed while in the employment of the latter on the Blue Ridge Rail road; and I understand my opinion to be desired by the Board on the questions raised by these claims.

On the evidence that I have seen including that which was given before the Board orally in my presence, and on consideration of the legal questions that present themselves to my mind or have been suggested by the board, I am of opinion the Board is liable for reasonable compensation, and may apply to that use so much as is necessary out of the money appropriated for the construction of the Road.

Some papers having relation to the subject were said to be in possession of the Board, namely the contract between Col. Crozet and the President of the Central R. Road about the hauling that these slaves were engaged in when killed; & possibly some other. These I have not seen but I am not able to perceive how they could vary the result.

For the B. of P. Works
W. P. Bocark atty gel
Nov. 1. 1854

About this Document

  • Source: Attorney General W.P. Bocark's opinion regarding the Bureau of Public Works' libability to pay for the slaves belonging to Garland Wood who were killed on the railroad while in the service of the Blue ridge railroad Co., November 1, 1854
  • Author: W.P. Bocark
  • Extent: 9 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box RG 57, Box 216, Folder 3
  • Date: November 1, 1854