Lawyers and Slaves: A Remarkable Case of Representation from the Antebellum South
University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, vol. 1, p.47, 2011
29 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2011 Last revised: 11 Sep 2012
Date Written: December 31, 2010
This essay examines the unexplored topic of lawyers who represented slaves in the antebellum era. Drawing on a single case study, the paper recreates the story surrounding a legal dispute that arose when David Webster of Galveston, Texas, freed a slave woman named Betsy and left her all of his property in his will. The case was controversial; not only did it expose the existence of an interracial relationship but it also raised the troubling question of whether a black woman, on the eve of the Civil War, should be entitled to her freedom and to the considerable wealth that was left to her, including the home in which they had lived. In exploring these issues, the paper draws out the attorneys who represented Betsy, examining their efforts as well as their motivations to offer valuable insight into a world in which local experience and intimate matters upends some of our fundamental assumptions about race, law, and life during slavery times.
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