We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Counterfeit Justice

The Judicial Odyssey of Texas Freedwoman Azeline Hearne

Dale Baum

Publication Year: 2009

For many of the forty years of her life as a slave, Azeline Hearne cohabitated with her wealthy, unmarried master, Samuel R. Hearne. She bore him four children, only one of whom survived past early childhood. When Sam died shortly after the Civil War ended, he publicly acknowledged his relationship with Azeline and bequeathed his entire estate to their twenty-year-old mulatto son, with the provision that he take care of his mother. When their son died early in 1868, Azeline inherited one of the most profitable cotton plantations in Texas and became one of the wealthiest ex-slaves in the former Confederacy. In Counterfeit Justice, Dale Baum traces Azeline’s remarkable story, detailing her ongoing legal battles to claim and maintain her legacy. As Baum shows, Azeline’s inheritance quickly made her a target for predatory whites determined to strip her of her land. A familiar figure at the Robertson County District Court from the late 1860s to the early 1880s, Azeline faced numerous lawsuits—including one filed against her by her own lawyer. Samuel Hearne’s family took steps to dispossess her, and other unscrupulous white men challenged the title to her plantation, using claims based on old Spanish land grants. Azeline’s prolonged and courageous defense of her rightful title brought her a certain notoriety: the first freedwoman to be a party to three separate civil lawsuits appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and the first former slave in Robertson County indicted on criminal charges of perjury. Although repeatedly blocked and frustrated by the convolutions of the legal system, she evolved from a bewildered defendant to a determined plaintiff who, in one extraordinary lawsuit, came tantalizingly close to achieving revenge against those who defrauded her for over a decade. Due to gaps in the available historical record and the unreliability of secondary accounts based on local Reconstruction folklore, many of the details of Azeline’s story are lost to history. But Baum grounds his speculation about her life in recent scholarship on the Reconstruction era, and he puts his findings in context in the history of Robertson County. Although history has not credited Azeline Hearne with influencing the course of the law, the story of her uniquely difficult position after the Civil War gives an unprecedented view of the era and of one solitary woman’s attempt to negotiate its social and legal complexities in her struggle to find justice. Baum’s meticulously researched narrative will be of keen interest to legal scholars and to all those interested in the plight of freed slaves during this era.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.5 MB)

Contents, List of Maps

pdf iconDownload PDF (55.8 KB)
pp. ix-xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.8 KB)
pp. xiii-xiv

This book would not have been possible without the encouragement and help of many people. My colleague Bob Calvert convinced me that the story of what happened to a forgotten Texas freedwoman named Azeline Hearne could be written...

Abbreviations Used in Notes

pdf iconDownload PDF (55.4 KB)
pp. xv-xvi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (81.2 KB)
pp. 1-6

By the end of the twentieth century all recollection of Azeline Hearne had vanished in the slow eddies of time. When her name appears in surviving documents, it is usually spelled “Assaline” or “Asaline” or, less frequently, “Azalene,” and incorrectly most...

read more

1. No Place for a White Man to Live

pdf iconDownload PDF (376.9 KB)
pp. 7-31

The history of the Brazos River is deeply entwined with the story of Anglo American settlement in Texas. Eighteenth- century Spanish explorers christened it “el Rio de los Brazos de Dios,” or “the Arms of God.” Originating in the West Texas...

read more

2. Thar Am No Parties on Marster’s Plantation

pdf iconDownload PDF (286.6 KB)
pp. 32-66

The economy of Robertson County flourished on the eve of the Civil War because of slavery. Speculation in slaves and cotton lands might have hindered the growth of local industries, but investment in slave agriculture in no way deflected capital...

read more

3. A Supposed or Pretended Will

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.5 KB)
pp. 67-99

At the time of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, there existed thousands of children of former slaveholders who, during slavery, had considered concubinage as their right. Legitimizing children born of former slave parents...

read more

4. Unheard of in Any System of Procedure

pdf iconDownload PDF (312.6 KB)
pp. 100-130

In 1868 Robertson County underwent a dramatic transformation. Lum Hearne’s prewar offer of a gift of land to the H&TC Railroad ensured that its postwar continuation would bypass Wheelock and Owensville and run closer...

read more

5. A Most Wanton Violation of Private Rights

pdf iconDownload PDF (241.2 KB)
pp. 131-158

The 1869 cotton crop in the Brazos Bottoms was by all accounts excellent. One observer predicted that, in the absence of bad weather, cotton worms, or some other unforeseen event, planters would make so much money that they would not know what to do with...

read more

6. It Seems Mighty Queer to Me, Lawyer

pdf iconDownload PDF (271.3 KB)
pp. 159-192

At the beginning of 1870, there were good reasons for Azeline Hearne to believe that if she stayed in Robertson County she would lose everything. The unaccountability of the Freedmen’s Bureau in managing Sam Hearne’s estate had culminated...

read more

7. Endeavoring to Wrong, Cheat, and Defraud Her

pdf iconDownload PDF (261.2 KB)
pp. 193-225

In the fall of 1874, three months after the rendering of the judgment against Azeline Hearne in the Hall case, fifty male citizens of the Empire of China appeared in the Robertson County District Court. The Chinese immigrants, who were formerly...

read more

8. The Old House Hasn’t Killed You Yet

pdf iconDownload PDF (166.3 KB)
pp. 226-244

The world surrounding a litigant’s life is always more fascinating than the written allegations made by attorneys in prosecution or defense of a lawsuit. Over twenty persons filed sworn depositions to questions propounded by counsel in Azeline...

read more

9. Divested by the Courts

pdf iconDownload PDF (130.2 KB)
pp. 245-257

For all practical purposes, Azeline Hearne’s case against Harvey Prendergast and H. L. Lewis had only a threadbare chance of life after Judge W. D. Wood made his ruling against her in the Robertson County District Court. Because there was nothing...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (122.0 KB)
pp. 258-270

Radical Republicans in the northern states at the end of the Civil War understood that enfranchisement, land, and education had to be secured for southern blacks before there could ever be hope for, in Massachusetts senator Charles...

Appendix: Timeline of Major Legal Events

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.4 KB)
pp. 271-277


pdf iconDownload PDF (139.8 KB)
pp. 279-294


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 295-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134962
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807134054

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War