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Neither Fugitive nor Free

Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Edlie Wong

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am indebted to the many individuals whose generosity and support helped make this book possible. At the University of California, Berkeley, I had the opportunity to work closely with Saidiya Hartman, who challenged me to produce meaningful work. She continues to inspire me. Caren Kaplan reprised her mentorship from my undergraduate to graduate...

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Introduction: Traveling Slaves and the Geopolitics of Freedom

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pp. 1-18

The Augusta (Georgia) Sentinel demanded 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 in Commonwealth v. Aves (1836)...

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1. Emancipation after “the Laws of Englishmen”

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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...

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2. Choosing Kin in Antislavery Literature and Law

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pp. 77-126

Like many southern travelers, North Carolina Whig congressman Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, the equivocal “Mr. Sands” of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents 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...

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3. The Gender of Freedom before Dred Scott

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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 so-called old clothes scandal.1 Critics often note in passing that Irene Sanford Emerson retained Keckley’s former master, Hugh A. Garland, as her counsel...

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4. The Crime of Color in the Negro Seamen Acts

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pp. 183-239

Radical black abolitionist David Walker proposes this counterfactual journey into the slave states early on in his Appeal 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...

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Conclusion: Fictions of Free Travel

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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...


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pp. 263-324


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pp. 325-337

About the Author

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p. 339

E-ISBN-13: 9780814795460
E-ISBN-10: 0814795463
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814794562
Print-ISBN-10: 0814794564

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794701112
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Neither Fugitive nor Free

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Subject Headings

  • Slavery in literature.
  • Law in literature.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Slaves -- Travel -- History -- 19th century.
  • Blacks -- Travel -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slave narratives -- History and criticism.
  • Slavery -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Law and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
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