In Defense of a Bed Bug by Morgan Gates
This is not an original story, but rather another little gem plucked from the trash bin of history, told in my own way of course. If you mentioned the name Seargent Prentiss in the Antebellum period almost any educated man of the day would have immediately known who you spoke of. Yet today he is largely forgotten.
Seargent Smith Prentiss was a famous lawyer, politician and orator in the early history of Mississippi. When he died at the early age of 41 it was said that the nation mourned. Very few men can be called legends in their own time. This man was. He was one of the wealthiest men in the wealthiest portion of the United States in his day. He was a politician of national reputation even though he served only one term in a national office and he was called one of the best orators of his day by Daniel Webster who was widely considered the best orator in American history. It was said he seldom spoke from prepared notes, speaking extemporaneously and quite eloquently. Seargent Prentiss was born in Maine but he moved to Natchez in the 1820’s where he became a lawyer. He moved to Vicksburg in 1832 where he practiced law and became involved in a legal disputed with some of Newitt Vick’s (Vicksburg’s founder) heirs that dragged on for years.
Like any lawyer, Prentiss often traveled for his work. Our story takes place in a small country inn, its exact location has been lost to history. Prentiss’ travel partner was awakened in the middle of the night by the bite of a bed bug. The partner quickly lit a candle and rifled through the bed covers until he found the felonious bug and using the butt of his pistol was about to administer a bit of summery justice. At the last minute, Prentiss launched into an off the cuff defense argument. The execution was stayed while the eloquent defense continued. The other guests awakened by the commotion listened in as well. Soon an impromptu court was convened and the tiny insect got a proper trial complete with due process and one of the finest legal minds of the day was his defense lawyer. Perhaps even more amazing –from our point of view at least--- all this was done pro bono! Prentiss’ defense is so convincing that in the end the bed bug was acquitted of all charges and released from custody!
Amazing you say, maybe not so much…You see this was not the first nor would it be the last time a good lawyer got one of societies’ parasites off the hook!