The Willey Outten Affray.......1759.......
Much information can be found on the case against John Willey for the murder of Sheriff William Outten in 1759. The case details passions and rage common to human beings, yes, even our Colonial ancestors, as evidenced by the acts of those involved. The wealth of affadavits and court testimony relating to this case can be found online in the Maryland Archives website. The outcome of the case could still be subject for debates today on the legalities etc. of each party. In other words, it's a pure and complete mess and not unlike things we still see today making headlines.
William Outten was Sheriff of Worcester County Maryland, and went into a settlement to arrest a group of tax protesters who had refused to list or pay taxes to Worcester County Maryland. The names of several men in that neighborhood were on the list that Sheriff Outten and his deputies came to arrest. However, the men on the list to be arrested by Sheriff Outten had lived in Sussex County Delaware for years, and truly thought that they, as their fathers and grandfathers had been, were under the jurisdiction of Delaware, not Maryland. They had paid their taxes to Delaware and were on the whole, good citizens of Delaware. They had heard of Sheriff Outten's threats before and although they had tried to convince the Maryland authorities that the settlement was in Delaware's tax district, the Maryland tax collectors would not listen. ( In fact, the exact cause of the entire affray was the fact that the area had been claimed by Maryland and the state line was fuzzy. To be sure, the boundary was around there somewhere, but where?) The residents that Sheriff Outten came to arrest from their own point of view, were good citizens of Delaware, and had been for ages. Outten's proclaimation of a few weeks prior that they would be arrested if they didn't pay tax to Maryland was not well received, as you can imagine.
The day came that Outten had sufficient forces with him to arrest the "tax cheats", and went to the settlement. What he was unaware of was that the people, being isolated, had a good early warning system. Once he and his posse were seen, runners were dispatched to the homes of the men on the list and the settlement was stirred to action. In some cases, children were dispatched to alert the unsuspecting neighbors that Sheriff Outten was coming for them. The neighbors came to John Willey's house, ready for a fight.
After capturing one protester, the Sheriff made his way to the house of 28 year old John Willey. For hours prior, John had been entertaining two strangers in his house with food and the warmth of his fireplace. When the Sheriff arrived in John's yard, John soon learned that the strangers were in fact part of Sheriff Outten's plan. After a scuffle with the two, John escaped to the loft of his home. Meanwhile a fray was taking place in his yard, as neighbors battled deputies from Maryland.
Sheriff Outten had drawn his sword and cut one neighbor very badly. Guns were firing, women were crying, men were fighting. Outten came into the house and tried to join John in the loft, but John would not have a part of that. John's wife was hit inside the house, while trying to defend John and was injured slightly. Outten, finding he could not gain access to the loft, left the house and was going around the house, when John jumped from the loft and went outside. He was handed a rifle and the crowd was yelling " Shoot him. Shoot him John !"
John ran around the house and came face to face with Sheriff Outten, and shot him. Sheriff Outten fell to the ground fatally wounded and his deputies fled the scene, leaving Sheriff Outten there to die. Hours later they came back to retrieve the body.
Within hours, John Willey had gone to Sussex County, Delaware and turned himself in. He knew he had killed the Sheriff, and sought refuge in Delaware. It is this point in time that the legal battles began in earnest. Maryland demanded John Willey on a charge of murder, however Delaware considered the death an act of self defense, as Maryland had no jurisdiction over John Willey and his neighbors in the first place. To arrest those people of the settlement, when they had committed no crimes, was incredibly gaudy of Maryland, thought the Delaware officials! Also noteworthy was Delaware's shunning of Maryland for moving Sheriff Outten's body before an inquest could be held.
Sussex County Delaware allowed John to go on trial to appease Maryland and numerous people testified by affadavit or in court. Some people said John lived in Maryland, others Delaware. Many described the fights that took place at John Willey's house on the fateful day, many described injuries. A nephew of Sheriff John Willey of Sussex County testified and from his affadavit we know that possibly a Uncle of John Willey, the accused, had been a Sheriff of the Delaware County some years before. The case dragged on with fiery, letters back and forth between the Maryland and Delaware officials, even the Governor of Delaware got involved at one point on John's behalf.
John was found not guilty on the charge of murder, but did plead guilty to manslaughter, and firm boundary lines were soon after set forth. For punishment, John was branded with the letter "M" on the "brawn of his left thumb". What happened to John Willey after the trial is something that has mystified researchers for decades. Some think he moved farther up state. We do know that his land was sold for unpaid taxes about 5 years after the fray. Apparently, he packed up his wife and probable children and left the area.
Is there any evidence that he came to North Carolina? No, not really, except here we are and we have lots of John Willeys in the family. Some of his relatives did move to Halifax and Caswell Counties of NC.....Oh, possibly one other thing....... Ezekial Joynes was also one of the other tax protesters on that list that Sheriff Outten had a warrant for that day in 1759. No one knows what became of Ezekial Joines, but there is one Ezekial Joines buried in Wilkes County NC, who is almost the very same age as Ezekial from the border of Delaware and Maryland............born in 1726......and some of our Willey's married Ezekial's descendants.
Oct. 6, 2002
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