This essay reads Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig (1859) as conversant with the potent and at times debilitating social fiction of rights for antebellum African Americans who found themselves caught between the categories of slavery and freedom. Through an analysis of Our Nig alongside a court case about an enslaved girl's contested legal status in Massachusetts, Commonwealth v. Aves (1836), I follow two figures whose rights were paradoxically invalidated via recognition of their legal freedom. The essay investigates the imbrication of antebellum African American rights claims with the legal doctrine of comity, operative in the argumentation of the Aves case. It does so to show how a key concept in both texts' explorations of rights—the legal and extralegal dimensions of courtesy in the age of slavery—can help us understand the complex rights claim advanced by Wilson in Our Nig, where rights are theorized as an amalgam of the "debilitating courtesies" that attend the protagonist's status as a domestic servant and de facto slave in antebellum New England.


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pp. 309-339
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