'A Woman's Pride and a Mother's Love' the Missouri Freedom Suits and the Lengths and Limits of Justice
2014 The Freedom Center Journal 42, Winter 2014
59 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2015
Date Written: December 30, 2014
In 1787, by operation of “deeds of manumission” and through the vehicle of “term slavery,” two Maryland enslaved families embarked upon a long journey toward freedom. Both of these groups of people were families comprised primarily of women and their children. This paper traces the history of these two family groups, from their homes in Maryland and across the nation to the state of Missouri, where eventually they would file legal petitions, also known as “freedom suits,” seeking vindication of their claims to freedom in the courts of that state. After a brief review of the origins of the “freedom suits” — and an exploration of the conditions of the daily lives of enslaved women and children — this paper will turn to an examination of the contents of the case files in the Missouri State Archives that contain the original records of these cases. These hand-written documents — including summonses, sheriffs’ returns of service, the freedom suits petitions themselves, and the opinions of the court — provide a remarkable opportunity to closely examine one particular legal mechanism, the freedom suit, by which the rule of law was employed in the service of the pursuit of justice.
Keywords: slavery; freedom suits; custody; manumission; justice; Dred Scott
JEL Classification: K10; K11; K19; K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation