1820 Elijah Goin b. abt 1820 of Claiborne Co, TN




From GRF Newsletter June 1991:

Elijah Goin Sues Slanderer
In Claiborne County, TN

By Carol Ledford
Route 1, Box 16, Leicester, North Carolina, 28248

Trouble started for Elijah Goin when his daughter, Mary Ann
“Polly” Goin was married to William H. “Billy” Mayes May
23, 1853 in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Sterling Mayes,
brother to the groom, took exception to the marriage, and one
week later was telling everyone that his brother had married a
Mulatto and that the whole Goin family were Mulattos and

Sterling even instructed his children to taunt the Goin children
with the Mulatto label and promised to protect them in it. By
July, the whole county had heard the accusations. Sterling had
gone so far as to make up a little song about Blacks and
Mulattos which he sang to the tune of “Old Dan Tucker,”
popular jig tune of the day. He even had the nerve to sing the
song to Elijah Goin in front of his friends on the main street of
Tazewell, the county seat.

Elijah Goin bit his tongue and turned the other cheek, hoping
that Sterling would tire of his little game, but the pressure only
intensified. In September, Sterling sang his doggerel verses in
church. He made his rhymes fit the hymns that were being
sung at the camp meeting, an evangelistic meeting held
outdoors in a tent. Several rows of worshipers heard the
caustic Mulatto slurs drowning out the gospel words.

That was the last straw, Elijah Goin filed suit in Circuit Court
for slander against Sterling Mayes September 15, 1853,
requesting damages of $5,000, a monumental sum in those
days. The charges were serious and damaging to Elijah Goin
who was a schoolteacher and active in community affairs. He
had once been elected as constable. It was embarrassing to his
family and his friends, and Elijah Goin had to take action
before his reputation and standing in the county were

Action on the suit was exceedingly slow, with continuous
postponements and continuances. It would be five years
before a verdict was finally handed down. When the case
finally went to court July 26, 1858, the trial lasted 37 court
days and involved the testimony of 43 witnesses. Tennessee
law required that the loser in a suit pay the court costs and the
expense of bringing in the witnesses. The witnesses were paid
25 cents a day for their appearances, and if they traveled over
20 miles, they were paid four cents a mile travel allowance.

There were 22 witnesses who had to be in court 27 days of the
trial, some traveling as far as 290 miles. Total court costs of
the case was $720 with $669 going to the witnesses.

Each of the litigants had to post bond guaranteeing payment of
the huge sum. Both were men of substance, but it was a
severe obligation. Elijah Goin owned land valued at $1,000,
and his personal property was valued at $350.

He was 38 years old and married. His wife and six children
would suffer severely if the verdict went against the plaintiff.
William H. “Billy” Mayes joined his father-in-law in posting
the bond.

The “Mulatto and Negro” charge had serious implications.
The Territory Act of 1794 and the Tennessee Constitution of
1796 declared, “all Negroes, Mulattos and Indians and persons
of mixed blood, descended from Negro or Indian ancestors to
the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each
generation may have been a white person, whether bond or
free, should be held deemed to be incapable in law to be a
witness in any case whatsoever, except against each other.”

The Act also forbad such persons from obtaining marriage
licenses, voting, owning land, paying taxes, making wills,
owning slaves or holding office. Their civil rights were

Even in Revolutionary days and in the War of 1812, Negroes
and Mulattos could not serve as soldiers. A few were utilized
in non-combatant roles as cooks and teamsters.

Elijah Goin’s 70-year-old father, Levi Goin was enduring great
anguish. Elijah Goin had several brothers, uncles and cousins
who were undergoing mental duress, not to mention all of the
in-laws involved. He took some comfort in the fact his old
grandfather, Thomas Goin, Revolutionary soldier and family
patriarch of Claiborne County, did not have to undergo the
pain and anxiety that the trial brought to the family.

Thomas Goin had lived in Claiborne County long before its
creation in 1801 and had died there in 1838, 15 years before
the suit was filed. Thomas Goin didn’t come to Claiborne
County; the county came to him. Thomas Goin bought his
land, 225 acres on Cherokee Creek in 1786 from the State of
North Carolina, two years before Tennessee came into
existence. He was a constable there [Washington County,
North Carolina] in 1784. He served on several jury panels
there, according to the county court records and was in court
in Jonesborough on the day that Andrew Jackson was admitted
to the bar.

In 1788, he sold his land in Washington County and moved 90
miles west to newly-created Hawkins County, Tennessee from
which Claiborne would be later created. He appeared there as
a taxpayer on Big Barren Creek in 1799 in “Capt. Coxes
company.” The postoffice of Goin, Tennessee would later be
named for this pioneer’s family. Goin still exists today, but
the postoffice was discontinued in 1965. In 1802, he and his
sons help to build to road to Tazewell and were appointed its
overseers. In 1803, he was instrumental in establishing the
Big Barren Primitive Baptist Church. He served on Claiborne
County jury panels and in 1833 was listed as a “white male”

Until he died in 1838, no one had ever suggested that he was a
Negro or a Mulatto. The family had distinct Melungeon
features, but the mixed-blood characteristics were attributed to
Indian or Portuguese ancestry. Thomas Goin was buried in
Old Big Barren Cemetery. The site is now at the bottom of
Morris Lake, and it is unknown if the graves were moved
before the lake was created.

Known children of Thomas Goin include Levi Goin, born
about 1778, Uriah Goin, born about 1785 and Isaac Abraham
Goin, born about 1793.

The verdict? Elijah Goin won his slander suit against Sterling
Mayes, and the jury awarded him $50 damages, far less than
the $5,000 he sought. Sterling Mayes appealed the case to the
Tennessee Supreme Court in Knoxville where the Circuit
Court’s decision was reversed and remanded. He won the
appeal on the grounds that it had long been common
knowledge in the community that the Goin family was of
mixed blood and that he was not seeking the forfeiture of the
civil rights of Elijah Goin.