Monroe Edwards’ forgery trial kicked off with testimony by Christopher Dart, whose claims he had been swindled were opposed by Monroe’s lawyers, partners in the well-known Brazoria County firm of Jack and Townes.
In an era when trials involving well-known county citizens were rare, this one caught a great deal of attention, and the courtroom was crowded with spectators who knew one or more of those who would testify.
According to those with knowledge of such things, Monroe’s defense team would be paid 5 percent of the judgment or 2 1/2 percent of any compromise settlement that might be reached.
The Brazosport Archaeological Society’s well-researched story of the case notes two bills of sale with Dart’s signature were offered in evidence, with one of them conveying to Edwards all of Dart’s interest in the partnership lands, and the other his half-interest in the slaves.
These documents carried the signatures of Captain Peyton R. Splane, John F. Pettus and Ashmore Edwards as witnesses.
Dart was on the witness stand when Monroe’s attorney demanded, “Is that your signature?”
His hands shaking, Dart accepted the papers and studied the signatures at some length. After a prolonged silence, he admitted, “I believe it is.”
Then he quickly negated what must have seemed like an end to the case.
“Wait,” he said. “I didn’t mean that I signed it. I never signed an instrument such as that. It’s a forgery.”
Those in the crowded courtroom whispered among themselves, prompting Judge Benjamin C. Franklin to rap his gavel and ask for quiet.
Ashmore Edwards was called to testify, saying he had signed the instrument as witness, and verifying Dart had been present when Splane and Pettus signed in his presence.
Having been as fooled as everyone else about Monroe, Ashmore Edwards believed his testimony to be true. Even so, while he was still on the stand, Dart had picked up the instruments and was examining them again.
Suddenly, he whispered to his lawyers, and one of them jumped to his feet and asked the judge for a recess.
Approaching the bench, the lawyer told the judge they had discovered new evidence and needed time to plan its use. They were careful to give Edwards’ attorneys no hint as to the type of their discovery, which had to do with its appearance on the type of paper Dart used only for letter writing.
This had led them to suspect the documents were actually letters from which all writing except for the signatures had been erased with chemicals, and the bill of sale substituted in its place at a later date.
Two witnesses — the only men in Brazoria County in that day who might qualify as experts on chemicals and who might explain what the lawyers now suspected — were called to testify.
To the surprise of those in the courtroom, these were a physician, Dr. Charles B. Stewart, and Edmund Andrews, proprietor of a stationery and book store in Brazoria.
Despite stringent objections by Edwards’ attorneys, the court ruled chemical tests might be applied to the papers.
Although Monroe’s attorneys probably had no idea what the tests would show and tried to block them, the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution.
Within a short time after other chemicals were applied to the documents, those near enough to see what was happening watched the appearance of faint, spidery lines of a letter that had been written on the papers before the bill of sale had been inscribed there.
Dr. Stewart then took the witness stand, stating the obvious: Writing had been on the papers prior to the time it was removed by chemicals, and the bill of sale had then been inscribed there.
Even with such clear evidence in front of them, Monroe’s lawyers, including John C. Watrous and John W. Harris, put up a strong defense.
They claimed their client should not be held responsible for any use Dart might previously have made of the paper prior to the time the bill of sale was written there.
Their eloquence was in vain, however, and Judge Franklin directed that Dart should hold the property until he received the $99,088 due to him. Nor was this all. The next day, both Monroe and Ashmore Edwards were arrested by Sheriff Robert J. Calder on a charge of forgery. Bond for Monroe was denied, and he remained a prisoner in the jail at Brazoria.
When Monroe’s mistress, the slave girl Kitty Clover, heard what had happened, she borrowed clothes from a male slave, disguised herself as a boy and left the plantation in the dead of night, bound for Brazoria.
When she reached the jail, she introduced herself as Henry Clover, told the attendant she was one of Edwards’ slaves, and asked to see him.
Apparently without suspicion, the jailer allowed “Henry” to stay to serve Monroe as his personal servant while he was incarcerated.
Meanwhile, Monroe’s attorneys continued working on his behalf, traveling to San Antonio, where they obtained a writ of habeas corpus that might allow his release.
This hearing was held in San Antonio, and Monroe was released on $5,000 bond, for which Louis P. Cook, Texas’ Secretary of the Navy, served as Edwards’ security.
Although Monroe remained in San Antonio, he sent “Henry” Clover (Kitty) back to Brazoria to spy out the prosecution’s plans. She not only learned they planned to re-arrest Monroe upon his return to Brazoria, but also that two important witnesses had arrived to testify against Monroe.
Securing a horse, she rode to an inn at San Antonio, where she was to meet Edwards. Slipping a note to him upon his arrival, she saddled their horses and, at midnight, they rode toward the San Bernard River.
The next day, they waited there for darkness before completing their journey to the Chenango Plantation, where they packed food and clothing and a bag of gold Monroe had hidden for emergencies.
The two of them then rode to the southwest, leaving behind Monroe’s land and slaves anchored by the court judgment and an unpaid note for $35,000 for the purchase of slaves in Havana, thus forfeiting his appearance bond.
Next week: Next stop Europe, trying to create problems for Texas.