Dangerous Woman: Elizabeth Key's Freedom Suit - Subjecthood and Racialized Identity in Seventeenth Century Colonial Virginia
41 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2005 Last revised: 13 Dec 2010
Date Written: 2008
Elizabeth Key, an African-Anglo woman living in seventeenth century colonial Virginia sued for her freedom after being classified as a negro by the overseers of her late master's estate. Her lawsuit is one of the earliest freedom suits in the English colonies filed by a person with some African ancestry. Elizabeth's case also highlights those factors that distinguished indenture from life servitude - slavery in the mid seventeenth century. She succeeds in securing her freedom by crafting three interlinking legal arguments to demonstrate that she was a member of the colonial society in which she lived. Her evidence was her asserted ancestry - English; her religion, Christian; and the inability to be enslaved for life that stems from the first two statuses. These factors, I argue, determined who was the equivalent of white in seventeenth century Virginia.
Keywords: Legal History, Race, Gender, Slavery
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