Transcription of trial record in the case of the Commonwealth v. Sam (a slave), Mecklenburg County, May 21, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Pardons, May 1861, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.
On May 21, 1861, a court in Mecklenburg County, along the North Carolina border, convicted a slave named Sam of plotting and conspiring to make insurrection because he had stated that if a war began he and the other slaves "will all be free pretty soon." Sam specifically mentioned the roles that warfare and President Abraham Lincoln might play in freeing the slaves. He said that "if his master were to tell him that he had to go to fight for the South that he would not go, and that if he had to fight it would be a different way to that." Sam also stated that "he knew there were no negroes in his district that would join the South."
Since the 1690s in Virginia, trials of slaves accused of criminal offenses were tried by the judges without a jury. The justices of the peace set a market value on the convicted prisoner in order that the state government could compensate the owner for the loss of his laborer. The trial record is docketed, "May 28 1861 Com'd to labor on public works," indicating that the governor commuted the sentence from sale out of the country to forced labor on the public works, perhaps even on defensive works for the South.