In a previous post I mentioned my request to process two cartons of miscellaneous Pasquotank County records, citing my interest in both the county and the period the records covered. I told you about an exciting find in the Coroner’s Inquest materials regarding a Reconstruction era murder and the evidence gathered by the coroner. I will confess to you that it was my hope that these miscellaneous records might contain information about two of my historical interests: slavery and the Civil War. There was substantial material on slavery and slaves (and Free Persons of Color) and I will blog about some of them, hopefully, on our History For All The People blog. Sticking to the theme of this blog, I will tell you about the interesting Civil War Coroner’s Inquest tucked away with these miscellaneous papers.
I unpacked the Coroner’s Inquest material, opening each shuck and unfolding the documents therein. One set of documents was dated from a critical time in the history of Elizabeth City the county seat of Pasquotank County. The inquest was held on the body of James Devalin on March 3, 1862. At that moment in time Elizabeth City was back under Confederate occupation having just been captured on February 10th by United States forces. The citizens experienced the hard hand of war when fleeing Confederate troops, at the request of southern sympathizers, set fire to several buildings and houses in the town. The United States navy kept a nominal force in the city for several days but after February 14th the United States forces withdrew from the city after releasing on parole Confederate soldiers captured at the Battle of Roanoke Island. Shortly thereafter Confederate forces in the area, including companies from Georgia and Louisiana re-occupied the city. What happened to James Devalin? Why was he dead? And if he was a soldier, why have an inquest on the body?
On March 1st, 1862 Pvt. James Devalin of Captain Green’s Louisiana Guard Artillery pitched a drunk at the local dry goods store of Malachi Buffkins in the city proper. He was cursing other customers and jerking them around. At least two of Devalin’s soldier friends tried to get him to go back to the company with them. Devalin, deep in his cups, however, insisted not only upon staying but also in securing more alcohol. His insistence became badgering until at last, in his drunken fury, he threatened Malachi Buffkins. The disagreement moved from the store to the street where Devalin picked up a fence railing and began swinging it. Buffkins responded with a declaration of his intent to shoot Devalin if he approached with the railing. Devalin tossed the railing and replied he did not need anything but his hands to take care of Buffkins. He started for Buffkins who drew a pistol and again made clear his intent to fire. Consumed in an alcoholic rage, Devalin continued his approach until, at less than twenty five yards, Buffkins shot and killed him.
Devalin’s service record confirmed his death on March 2, 1862 but did not indicate where or how he had died. The inquest was necessary because he did not die in combat but was shot dead in a fight with a civilian.
More interestingly (to me!) the whole story adds another level of violence to the story of occupied Elizabeth City. Not only did local people have to worry about marauding United States forces but they also faced dangers from marauding Confederate forces. It was a harbinger of the next three years of the war in that area. Devalin’s story is another tool for historian to use; another surprise from the Coroner’s Inquest materials.