The Court Martial of Robert Leighton Yancey of Louisa Co., Virginia - 1806
Ancestry: Robert Leighton Yancey, son of Capt. Charles, son of Robert, son of Charles, son of Charles Yancey.
At a court martial
Held at Louisa Courthouse on the 10th day of December, 1806, by order of Major General James Williams, for the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Yancey, of the 40th Regiment of Virginia Militia:
Present, Brigadier General John Blackwell, Presidnet, Col. Heith J. Miller, Col. Augustine J. Smith, Col. Knoch Renoc, Col. James Barbour, Major Samuel Peyton, Major Joseph Towles, Major George Minor, Major James Poindexter, Major William Price, Capt. John Kemper (who took his seat after the court was constututed), Capt Barret G. Payne, Capt Joseph L. Hawkins and Capt. William White, jun., Capt Walter D. Brooke was called and did not appear. By consent of parties, Major Price and Captain White, took their seats in the room of Capt. John Kemper and Capt. Walter D. Brooke, who were summoned, but being called, were absent when the court were constituted.
The oaths directed by law, being duly administered to the different members, and officers of court, the charges against Lieutenant Colonel Robert Yancey, were read in presence of said Yancey, and William S. Mitchell (at whose instance he was arrested) in the words following to wit:
Division Orders, Nov 19th 1806
The Major General of the second division of Virginia Militia, directs that a court martial shall sit at Louisa Courthouse, to meet on the 10th day of December next, for the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Yancey, of the 40th regiment, upon the following charges:
For conducting himself in many instances unbecoming the character of a gentleman, and below the dignity of an officer; being guilty of fraud, forgery, perjury and infamous lying. They will also try any other officer or officers, that may be brought before them, Brigadier General John Blackwell will preside. The court to be furnished agreeable to the following detail . . .
. . . Whereupon Lieutenant Colonel Robert Yancey's answer, in writing, to the forgoing charges was read in the following words, to wit: The answer of Robert Yancey to charges exhibited against him by William S. Mitchell, a Lieutenant of the 40th regiment of Virginia Militia, before the honorable Court Martial directed by Major General James Williams, to be held at Louisa courthouse on 10th December 1806, whereof General Blackwell is the President.
Long exposed to the malignant calumnies of a set of the most rancorous and detestable wretches, this respondent rejoiced to hear that it was contemplated to arrest him, because he expected, that rumors which had hitherto fleeted through the atmosphere, and which, like "airy nothing" had constantly eluded his grasp, would be compelled to assume "a local habitation and a name" a form, tangible shape; and because it would afford him an honorable opportunity of meeting those whom honor forbade to meet, and of evincing his innocence to the world. And though in the county where he and his accusers are well known, public opinion had already rendered a verdict, by which they were consigned to merited contempt and infamy, yet as the unexampled pains that were taken to disseminate falsehood, by a band who had associated for that express purpose, might have scattered reports injurious to the reputation of this respondent, where the authors were unknown, he felt solicitous that a public and legalized investigation should be had. When he was arrested on the 15th ult. by order of Major General Williams, on the broad charges of "fraud, perjury, forgery and infamous lying, "he expected, as right guaranteed by the constitution of his country, to have received a copy of the specifications of the several charges exhibited against him, but was informed by the arresting officer, that none such had been furnished. This respondent, however, contented himself with the belief that he would be furnished with the specific charges in time to prepare for his defense. In this belief he reposed until the 24th ult. when he received a notification, that the Court Martial would be held at Louisa courthouse on 10th December, accompanied only with a blank subpoena for his witnesses. Convinced now that the design of his accusers was to exhibit general charges and take him, if possible, by surprise, in hopes that from the transactions of twenty odd years of a life uncommonly active and public, they might scrape something that might be tortured into evidence to support some one of their charges; charges that embrace the whole scope of human action; or something that the respondent might not be prepared to rebut, or explain; whatever astonishment he might feel at the nature of the proceeding, he determined at once to wave all objections, to surmount all difficulties as far as possible, and to prepare with all diligence for his defense. But with a full portion of human frailty, he was not conscious of anything that would justify the charges exhibited against him; yet knowing the infernal zeal which characterized his accusers; that they had ransacked the records for twenty years, for proofs of guilt; hat they had ripped up almost every transaction of his life from the time this respondent qualified as deputy sheriff, at the age of 14, to the present day; that they had gone to almost every man, who had transactions with him as a merchant, as a sheriff or as an individual, & enquired for causes of accusations; that they had misrepresented those transactions, an converted innocent actions into criminal charges, that they had fabricated falsehoods of the most infamous and abominable kind, which they had circulated with equal zeal and industry; . . . knowing all this, his anxiety to be prepared to meet his accusers was increased, whilst the means of defence were denied. He was still fighting a phantom, which constantly eluded his grasp. If he looked to the charges, he found nothing definite; he knew not to what transaction of his life they alluded; if he attended to common report, the only source of information that seemed open to him, he found everything vague and uncertain and various; nor to this day has he been able to ascertain to what actions of his life the charges refer, or on what evidence they rest for their support. An example like this is unprecedented in the annals of military proceedings. But determined not to shrink from an investigation, which he had so long wished, however unequal the terms, because, although the charges are unequivocally of a civil nature, and not the proper subjects of cognizance of military courts, until their truth has been ascertained by the verdict of a jury, a right reserved in such cases to every free man, by the constitution of our country, yet conscious of the baseness and falsehood of the charges, and knowing that the declining of a trial, for whatever reasons, would be construed by his enemies into a confession of guilt, he preferred meeting every charge that could be exhibited against him, with no other shield than innocence, with no other support than the general evidence of the most respectable men of the county, who have known him from his infancy, and who have had numerous transactions with him, in the various scenes of life in which he has acted.
This respondent begs leave to submit to the honorable court, a simple statement of facts, going to show the origin, progress and present character of this business; although the arrest has been ordered nominally at the instance of William S. Mitchell, he is the mere cat's paw of William Smith, who is the real actor, the chief juggler behind the scene, as will be proved to this honorable court. Some years since, when a Major was to be appointed in this county, Smith and the respondent then the youngest captain in the county, and a much younger captain than Smith, were candidates for the office, the respondent was recommended by the court, and commissioned by the Governor. Smith resigned his commission, and has been recently heard to speak of the transaction, in a manner that shewed it still rankled in his malignant heart. Some time after, Smith became a candidate for the county; the respondent having been long acquainted with him, and knowing his real character, was opposed to his election. Twice he essayed to become the representative of the people, and twice he failed; but his ambition and his vanity, rising with greater energy from difficulty and detest, he determined to put forth all his strength, and became a candidate for the Senate. Here also he was opposed by the respondent, who spoke without much reserve, as he is perhaps apt to do, of the mean and contemptible artifices resorted to by Smith to secure his election. Again this aspiring genius was tumbled from the fancied elevation which he had fondly anticipated, and which his imagination had painted in the flowing colours of the most radiant light; he fell almost without a struggle. Vanity and ambition had obtained a momentary ascendancy over his avarice, but when the popular paroxysm has subsided, the recollection of expenses incurred by an ostentation of liberality which he never felt, and the chagrin of disappointment operated like a corroding poison in the heart, to excite all those dark, dirty and malignant feelings, which are the inoperable attributes of a mind in which avarice, ambition, vanity, malice and revenge wage an eternal war for empire. He resolved [??] revenge. Unable to raise himself, he resolved to pull down the characters of those who stood in his way and to erect to himself, on the ruins, a trophy worthy of such honorable principles. He accordingly commenced an attack on the reputation
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Col. William O. Callis sworn:
That he has been acquainted with Yancey from his infancy, and for six or eight years back intimately, and had various dealings with him as a merchant, a sheriff and an individual and an officer, that he has always found him, an honest man and a good officer, likewise served with him as a member of the Virginia Legislature, which office he faithfully discharged in 1799.
Garland Anderson wrote:
That he's known Yancey for many years and served with him in the Virginia Legislature. Always found his conduct compatible with that of a gentlkeman.
William Wash sworn:
That he has known Yancey all his life; and always found him correct and fair in numerous dealings which he has had with him.
The evidence being now closed on both sides, the court proceeded to give sentence, in the following words, viz:
The court are unanimously of opinion, that Lieutenant Colonel Robert Yancey be acquitted with honor, of all the charges that have been brought against him.