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Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Edlie L. Wong
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Neither Fugitive nor Free
    Book Description:

    Neither Fugitive nor Free draws on the freedom suit as recorded in the press and court documents to offer a critically and historically engaged understanding of the freedom celebrated in the literary and cultural histories of transatlantic abolitionism. Freedom suits involved those enslaved valets, nurses, and maids who accompanied slaveholders onto free soil. Once brought into a free jurisdiction, these attendants became informally free, even if they were taken back to a slave jurisdiction - at least according to abolitionists and the enslaved themselves. In order to secure their freedom formally, slave attendants or others on their behalf had to bring suit in a court of law.Edlie Wong critically recuperates these cases in an effort to reexamine and redefine the legal construction of freedom, will, and consent. This study places such historically central anti-slavery figures as Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, and William Lloyd Garrison alongside such lesser-known slave plaintiffs as Lucy Ann Delaney, Grace, Catharine Linda, Med, and Harriet Robinson Scott. Situated at the confluence of literary criticism, feminism, and legal history, Neither Fugitive nor Free presents the freedom suit as a "new" genre to African American and American literary studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9546-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Traveling Slaves and the Geopolitics of Freedom
    (pp. 1-18)

    TheAugusta (Georgia) Sentineldemanded no less than the dissolution of the Union when word began to spread throughout the states south of Mason-Dixon of Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw’s judgment freeing a young slave girl named Med.¹ Med had accompanied her mistress from New Orleans to Boston, and inCommonwealth v. Aves(1836), Shaw ruled that this journey into and extended residence in a free state had effectively emancipated her. Med numbered among the many slave attendants whom slaveholders brought with them on their long journeys north. As former Tennessee bondsman James Thomas recalled, “during the summer months the...

  5. 1 Emancipation after “the Laws of Englishmen”
    (pp. 19-76)

    Charles Orpen’s words form the epigraph to this chapter not, as one might expect, for their philosophical originality but rather for so plainly expressing what had become a “universal admission” of popular British antislavery in the heady years preceding West Indian emancipation.¹ Orpen, one of the self-professed “Directors” of the Dublin-based Hibernian Negro’s Friend Society, published the organization’s political objectives in an open letter to Thomas Pringle, secretary of the London Anti-Slavery Society.² Frustrated with the ever-receding horizon of West Indian emancipation, Orpen sought to distinguish his recently established Irish men’s organization from the metropolitan Anti-Slavery Society, insisting in the...

  6. 2 Choosing Kin in Antislavery Literature and Law
    (pp. 77-126)

    Like many southern travelers, North Carolina Whig congressman Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, the equivocal “Mr. Sands” of Harriet Jacobs’sIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl(1861), brought his slave John S. Jacobs to attend him on his 1838 wedding journey from Washington City to Chicago. Sawyer, aware of the growing antislavery activism targeting slaves brought into free states, directed Jacobs as they crossed from slaveholding Baltimore into free Philadelphia, “Call me Mr. Sawyer; and if anybody asks you who you are, and where you are going, tell them that you are a free man, and hired by me.”¹ Once...

  7. 3 The Gender of Freedom before Dred Scott
    (pp. 127-182)

    Former bondswoman and White House intimate Elizabeth Keckley authored one of the few extant postemancipation U.S. slave narratives,Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House(1868), as a defense of her patron, Mary Todd Lincoln, after the socalled old clothes scandal.¹ Critics often note in passing that Irene Sanford Emerson retained Keckley’s former master, Hugh A. Garland, as her counsel against Dred Scott in the initial trial that was to become infamous in the annals of U.S. constitutional history, yet few have explored Scott’s freedom suit as a broader context for understanding...

  8. 4 The Crime of Color in the Negro Seamen Acts
    (pp. 183-239)

    Radical black abolitionist David Walker proposes this counterfactual journey into the slave states early on in hisAppeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.¹ In an Atlantic world where freedom had become increasingly territorialized, Walker seizes on travel as an ironic test of the individual freedoms purportedly secured in the federal compact. His series of conditional “ifs” reveal personal liberty to be both racially particularized and geographically bounded. Free blacks—citizens of northern states—either traveled as slaves or risked becoming enslaved upon entry into a slave state. Black movement was permissible only when it was subordinated to white...

  9. Conclusion: Fictions of Free Travel
    (pp. 240-262)

    The geopolitics of freedom and slavery revealed in and exacerbated by the freedom suits discussed in this book helped to consolidate the profoundly American understanding of personal liberty as freedom of movement, an understanding that persists to this day. Black and white abolitionists had long couched their protests against punitive black exclusion laws such as the Negro Seamen Act in terms of a constitutional right to free travel, and the legacy of the territorialization of freedom and slavery ensured that the question of this right would remain a flashpoint in U.S. legal culture throughout the nineteenth century. TheLiberatorrepeatedly...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 263-324)
  11. Index
    (pp. 325-338)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 339-339)