Back in the Day

The perks of being a Johnston boy


They say things often depend on “who you know” – and in 1875, the owners of the Hughesdale Manufacturing Co. felt certain that was indeed the situation they were dealing with.

A short time earlier, James Patton from Johnston had sued the company, which manufactured drugs, chemicals and acids. He won the suit but died on July 16, 1875.

James, a 66-year-old engraver, had resided with his wife Jane (Holmes); his son Andrew, who was a lawyer; his son James, who was a grocer; his daughter Anne, who was a hatmaker; and his daughter Christina, who was a dressmaker.

Eight days after James’s death, the owners of the manufacturing company appealed the decision and requested a new trial. The defendants claimed that a lot of dirty dealing had affected the outcome of the trial. They recalled the jury being taken to the Patton property, along with the sheriff, in order to view evidence. There, they asserted, things took a very unprofessional turn.

According to the defendants, James and his two sons conversed with and entertained the jury members during the entire visit, serving them hot coffee and “certain eatables.”

This behavior, they claimed, was highly improper and an obvious attempt to bias the jury in Patton’s favor. Following the friendly serving of food and drinks, the Pattons continued to have an inappropriate relationship with jury members, the complaint went on.

The defendants claimed that after the trial had ended with a ruling against them, James was overheard having a conversation with juror Nicholas Dawley Tanner, a 53-year-old machinist. Allegedly the two men had left the courthouse together, walking side by side down the street. Before they parted ways at a crossroad, James allegedly said to the juror, “Yes, there has been awful hard swearing up there today.”

James Patton’s legal team included his 31-year-old son Andrew, who had graduated from Brown University six years earlier and would go on to become probate judge for the town of Johnston.

The defendants claimed that, in yet another inappropriate act which showed bias had indeed been won for the Pattons, a jury member approached Andrew after the verdict had been read in the Patton’s favor.

“I told you we would not go back on a Johnston boy,” the jury member allegedly told Andrew.

After a careful consideration of the appeal and the fact that most of the complaints regarding the behavior of the Pattons had not been brought forth in a timely manner, the Hughesdale Manufacturing Co.’s request for a new trial was denied.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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