A new database of lawsuits by enslaved people seeking their freedom promises new insights into enslavement and the quest for freedom. Researchers at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have constructed a database containing more than 500 cases from the 1820s and 1830s.
The cases were brought to the Circuit Court of Washington, DC, Maryland state courts, and to the Supreme Court. Records reveal that the institution of slavery was contested from its inception and provides innumerable insights into the lived experience of enslaved people.
Such suits for freedom reveal a long history of Black opposition to slavery in the courts. One of the most recognizable and well-known suits for freedom is the 1857 case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford, also known as the Dred Scott decision; Scott sued his enslaver by arguing that his transport into free states negated his…
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