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L. C. Capehart
Reminiscences of Isaac and Sukey, Slaves of B. F. Moore, of Raleigh, N.C.
Raleigh: Edwards, 1907.

Summary

L. C. Capehart (1839-1908) was born Lucy Catherine Moore Capehart, the daughter of Bartholomew Figures Moore (1801-1878). She was married twice, first to P. T. Henry and later to B. A. Capehart. Her father, B. F. Moore, was born in Virginia and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1820. He studied law under Thomas N. Mann of Nash County and began to practice there in 1823. In 1848, Moore moved to Raleigh and continued his legal practice. He became the State Attorney General later that year, serving until 1851. His legal reputation was founded on his argument in the 1834 State v. Will case, in which the court ruled that slaves have the right to protect themselves against unlawful violence from overseers or masters. Moore opposed secession prior to the Civil War and later Reconstruction as unconstitutional. He was a key figure in North Carolina and national politics after the Civil War. He married Louisa Boddie in 1828; she died less than a year later. In 1835 he married Louisa's younger sister, Lucy Williams Boddie, with whom he had eleven children, including Lucy Catherine. By the time of his death in 1878, Moore had acquired considerable property. In his will, dated August 12, 1878, he provided for his surviving family and left one hundred dollars to each of his former slaves living in North Carolina.

Reminiscences of Isaac and Sukey is a series of short anecdotal vignettes collected by L. C. Capehart. While the narrator occasionally references herself or narrates a portion of the story, Isaac and Sukey's words are printed largely in dialect. Eight vignettes are narrated by Isaac B. F. Moore "as he called himself . . . taking the name of his former master" (p. 3). The three final vignettes are attributed to a woman named Sukey Bat Moore, who also adapted her former master's name as part of her own. While the eleven tales offer little narrative or plot, they are presented as character illustrations, humor tales, and tributes to the legacy of Bartholomew Figures Moore.

Isaac's tales include two instances in which he is called to court for killing his neighbor's hogs. In both instances, Moore appears in court to defend him, and according to Isaac, Moore's bluster and reputation are enough to end the matter in Isaac's favor: "When marster got thrugh talkin' he looked 'round an sed to me, 'Well, Isaac, as everybody else is gone, we might as well go too'; and dat wus de las' I hear of dat trial" (p. 5). Isaac also narrates a few tall tales, including one in which he stays up all night in a cornfield trying to catch a corn thief. He isn't successful, but he claims to have heard the corn grow: "God knows I neber heerd corn grow so fast in my life. 'Twas nately poppin' an' crackin' all night long!" (p. 7).

Sukey's stories reflect her admiration for her former master and provide additional local humor. In her first vignette, she critiques a bust erected in honor of Moore: "It's mity like marster, all but one thing; it ain't got no arms. Marster was such a busy man, always at work, it ought to have arms put to it" (p. 9).Sukey's final story is intended to be a humorous anecdote describing a moment of spiritual excitement. Feeling moved, Sukey exclaims in church, "Oh! I feel I can fly to heaven!" and actually jumps out of a window. Luckily, she is not hurt because the window is low to the ground, and when asked why she didn't actually fly, Sukey responds, "I dunno, honey, 'cept as how I didn't git de right flop!" (p. 11). Flopping, Capehart explains in a note, is a term used to describe the "the habit of fowls raising and lowering their wings in order to inflate their lungs before flying" (p. 11). While these and other anecdotes may have resonated as simple, funny tales with Capehart's contemporary readers, cultural perceptions have since shifted to bring new awareness of the complexities between Capehart's understanding, and her portrayal of her subjects, their social circumstances, their relationships to their former master, and their opportunities for individual expression.

Works Consulted: Mitchell, Memory F., "Moore, Bartholomew Figures," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991, 294-295.

Jenn Williamson

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