tv Discussion on Slavery and the Freedom Trials CSPAN May 24, 2015 1:00pm-1:47pm EDT
territory act. a constitutional convention. it was a successful government because it was with good leaders in the 1780's. why haven't historians jumped on theat and written a pulitzer prize-winning book? if i were younger, i might tackle it. any other questions? thank you very much. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> monday night at 10:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv, and nbc news special report -- communist saigon from may 25 1975 reports on the capture of south vietnam's capital by north vietnamese communist forces. the details the weeks of the end of the the and him working and
nbc news special report from 1975 -- communist saigon on american history tv on c-span3. >> up next on american history tv, law professor lea vandervelde tells the stories of slaves who use the law as a pathway to freedom in the pre-civil war era. she describes how slaves contributed to building frontier communities and discusses several legal cases that illustrate the struggles of both enslaved and freed blacks in the antebellum west. this event from the national archives is about 45 minutes. dr. vandervelde: i should say good morning. it is still morning, right? a few minutes until noon. i want to thank the national archives and doug watson for this opportunity to speak. it is particularly a pleasure for me since it is like history -- black history month and because the stories i'm about to tell you about our heroes of
-- are heroes of black history in my opinion. in the history of the united states supreme court, there is one and only one case where a slave challenged his master and that's the notorious dred scott case. dred scott versus stanford didanford. now, the slave would lose. does not seem surprising. that a slave with sue at all does. after all, what could slave do anyway? they had no agency. they were born, died, had children, and worked for other people's gain. but far more often, they were persons who were acted upon. they were bought souls sent and -- sold, transported, and inherited, but they themselves did not buy, sell, contract and inherent. slaves inhabit their masters agenda. they lived through their master's agendas and lives during a time of their enslavement. the subject and subjective quality of their lives is
overtaken by their existence as objects. as objects who belonged to somebody else with an objective life. as such, slaves are often on notice. it is hard to find details about lives of inflated persons. -- enslaved persons. they are described in the passive voice as having the characteristics of object. there are many lawsuits that involved slaves. the law books are full of them. they took place over the heads of slaves between free persons. slaves did not sue. i wrote a book about 300 who did. and pardon me. and surprisingly, the majority won. this species of lawsuit is rare, indeed. in freedom cases before dred scott, the slave was pitted in fierce opposition to his or her master. what was a freedom suit?
how did a slave get to court yucca? how did a slave get a lawyer? under the procedure set out by a missouri statute, the slave began a lawsuit by orally telling his case, his life story, to a clerk or a justice of the peace. the affidavit told the slave's story and declared wrote -- the clerk wrote the story down. then the slave signed with an x. which was customary or illiterate persons. i've arrayed some 300 x'es here, which were the signatures of slaves in freedom petitions. the x'es made at the bottom were the account of a slave's life and it must be remembered that slaves were forbidden to read or write. so for these individuals, it was probably most probably the very first time they had ever held a
pen in their hands and they were making an x in defiance of their master to assert their freedom. these cases are the original filings of the trial court level. and so, there are a lot of details. they are authentic accounts you could not find other places about people whom you have never heard of before but will lift who lived fascinating interesting lives. and the petition read this if sometimes the clerk simply took ballot the dictation of what the slave had to say. there is a story behind every one of these x'es. behind one x, of course, is dred scott, notorious, the case. unknown, the man. behind another x is his wife
harriet. but there are others. many more x'es than pictures. this is lucy delaney who signed an x when she was just a child and lived to write about it after the civil war. swansee adams, one of the duncan slaves, which is one of my favorite stories in the book, because it is a story in which there is a superb victory for all of the duncan slaves over all of their duncan masters. but behind each of these stories is a family or an individual and, altogether, many of these freedom suits were family affairs. whether the litigants sued jointly in tandem or in succession, a total of 160 persons of the 239 for whom we have records, were in the
family. they sued as a family. consider then some of these x'es clustered together as mothers and children and brothers and sisters. there are some 11 litigants for whom we have no legal records at all, but of these 153 were women or girls and 126 were men. or boys. most of the petitioners based their claim on the fact they were taken to a place where slavery was banned. there are some other basis in the book as the book explains, but the primary centerpiece collection here are slaves, who by living and working in free territory, not as a runaway but with one's master's consent could be in a position to retain -- -- readiredeem their
freedom by going to court. the bondage of the slave was broken by living and residing in free territory. crossing the boundary with one's master and remaining there made the bondsman free. the rule was that simple. these cases were the centerpiece of st. louis freedoms is in the cases were fomented through westward migration and national expansion. the role of freedom by residents, living on free soil was essentially derived from migration. and in these cases, from westward migration of owners with their slaves. in these cases, the petitioners directly opposed their master's wishes. they petitioned the court to override those wishes because for some time in the course of western migration, that person had lived on free soil. these cases were truly transformational. most slaves were brought west by floating with the current down the ohio river.
the northern shore was free. and missouri's longest border was with a free state -- illinois. this border had to be passed by or through in getting west. st. louis was as a marketplace for the west. st. louis was the end depot for most westward immigrants. it was the place to change steamboats whether you are going north, south, or whether you are going further west on the missouri river. and disputes brewing elsewhere were funneled into the st. louis court by gravitating to the transportation hub. a steady stream of petitioners satisfy the criteria for freedom by having lived on free soil before arriving in st. louis in a slave state. st. louis was the natural cashman area for slaves who had experienced a mixed pattern of residence in the course of
migrating west. st. louis was the perfect storm. the western labor market needed slaves. st. louis found slaves were brought down the ohio river principally to tame the west. and they were needed as domestic laborers in order to advance the prophecies of settlements faster than could be done by the do-it-yourself yeoman farmers and merchants. slaves occupied a slightly different role in the west than they did in the south. first, the slave men were needed as the muscle to move the cargo to supply the west and to provide for western expansion. second, in a few limited areas particularly where they were lead and salt deposits, slave men were set to work in mining. these were jobs that free men
did not want to do and you could not find large numbers of free men to do these jobs. hired labor was available only at a premium, so slaves were imported. and third, slave men and women were brought into the antebellum frontier as labor to provide the basic needs of sustenance for things that could not be bought in the market for jobs, tasks errands, that could not be hired. slaves were available for settlement and lands were available. there was a lot of land in great supply. you could buy a farm for a far less amount than the cost of a slave. slaves were set to work building cabins, fences, stills, chopping wood, making fires, feeding and watering people and animals, cooking, laundering, and where there were travelers providing for those travelers. in remote areas, slaves provided
the later of a sick household -- basic household sustenance so that that community could gain on the equation of their survival. who could build the state, attend a court, found the school, build a library, or form a legislature if all hands were needed simply to maintain survival? only when some household members were free from the tasks of maintaining survival could the community built the infrastructure of roads, governments, and institutions on which to advance. work done by slaves permitted the settlement to advance faster than the settlements could have done without them. the goal of freedom in these cases was always the same. freedom was the ability to go
and do and serve whomever one wished. and just as important, to refuse to obey others who had no legitimate claim to them at all. and also, the freedom to remain in place if they wished, not to have to run and to keep running. these cases highlight also freedoms opposite -- the power of enslavement that can be exercised without any accountability whatsoever. the litigants entered the courts in different ways, and they pay different prices for winning their freedom. the price that freedom promised to them by law was surprisingly high for many of these litigants. i wrote the stories by looking at the x'es and reading backward. reading the accounts, the petitions, the slaves had given for themselves. had provided in the elements necessary for the lawsuit to establish their freedom.
and then constructing the world around them. could i verify that they had, in fact, lived in this particular place in illinois for three or four months? surprisingly in many instances i could. i checked censuses, tax records, homestead records, i checked everything available in order to map the world in which the slaves traveled in order to find the story behind these x'es. each of these chapters is a different short story. and the slave's subject life is at its center with a redemption song, the transformative moment. i would like to tell you about just a few of the stories. one is peter and his wife queen. peter's case is the very earliest case to be decided under the northwest ordinance determining slaves to be free.
this is decided before 1800. in an area that is now illinois -- sorry, indiana. vincenze, indiana. this story was never told before because it was hidden in the papers of a private collector. and it is also the only story occurring in the book that takes place in a free jurisdiction. peter and his wife queen are suing for their freedom in indiana. it should have been an easy case. peter's story demonstrates the difficulty of establishing one's freedom in a relatively unsettled portion of the united states territory. peter and his wife set off from kentucky for free land, for free soil. but two persons traveling alone and camping beside the falls of the wabash river were quickly noticed by indian tribes who
occupied the area. we do not know which tribes captured peter and queen, but they were taken captive and held for several days. and then they were taken to a very destination, but they were sold to the people as slaves. the indians got two rifles and some ammunition and peter knew exactly the price of his head. peter is living in free territory. he and his wife are sold to a man named vanderburgh. and they basically stay with him for the winter because there is no place else for them to go. they had to wait until spring, until the very first judge came to the territory for the very first time before they had anyone to appeal to. and peter wasted no time. he approached the judge on the very day that judge turner
arrived. judge turner quickly saw that peter deserved a writ of habeas corpus and should be freed from his master and peter was also probably entitled to some money for his treatment. but he allowed peter and queen to go back to the punitive master, mr. vanderberg. and that is where a conspiracy began. peter's story is the story of a perfect conspiracy. it is almost the blueprint for one. how you separate one slave from another. how you deceive them. how you send them off on an errand, only to be taken captive. and what was the objective here? the objective was to keep him away from the judge. well, peter is later freed. the story is a dramatic one. but there is one further note.
peter was actually a soldier in the revolutionary war. i found his veteran's pension. the two men who kidnapped and tormented him are far better known because they have counties named after them in indiana. jean marie was born in illinois. sometimes called g. mary , depending on whether you're pronouncing it in the french he grew up in or in english, which was customary in st. louis. he was born to a woman who was enslaved by the french and had been brought into the area before it was even deemed to be american territory. jean marie fought for his freedom and the freedom of his wife and his two children. he was kidnapped twice and should downriver to new orleans twice in manacles for sale.
and twice he beat them back, escaped, made his way north, and seated for his -- soonued for his freedom. the first time he sued for his freedom, he sued in st. louis, appealing all the way to the missouri supreme court. i was able to find that on that day the missouri supreme court ruled in his favor, he had a party. i know that because people who lost try to bring an action for disorderly conduct for him for creating such a ruckus. that was not the end. he was kidnapped one more time and this time sent back to new orleans. there he filed suit again and appealed all the way to the louisiana supreme court. and jean marie and a family ended their lives and freedom in st. louis. lydia titus established her freedom very early in illinois. she went on to marry a free
demand -- friedmaneed man and purchased 160 acres. they raised livestock. they had a family. they raise their children. and at one point, her husband died. several years after that, on one fateful night, heirs of her former master, a generation later, appeared at her door and in the cover of darkness and forcibly kidnapped her children and grandchildren. with them was illinois secretary of state who is acting as their lawyer. the secretary of state was a large man, very imposing, and he said that was doing this for the law and his clients. he also wielded a gun and he made lydia lie facedown on the floor while her children and
grandchildren were taken off in a wagon. grandmother lydia was not going to allow that to stop her. the next morning, she was at court before court even opened, filing a freedom suit to get their return. these cases are full of paradoxes, so when the sheriff found lydia's children and the kidnappers on the road south, he arrested them both. the kidnappers. because they had kidnapped lydia's children. lydia's children for their own safekeeping and all parties warehouse -- warehouse -- were held in the same jail. lydia frees her children and her grandchildren but at some cost. two of her children do not survive the ordeal. they die in the cold jail. and at the very end, the homestead that she had built up with her husband had to be sold to pay her lawyer.
david shipman's story is far more uplifting because david shipman was a kentucky mill owner and he was falling into debt and he knew his creditors were coming to seize the slave family if they could. he wanted them to instead take the mill. take the livestock. and so, in order to free them from the prospect of being captured and sold at auction, he took them first to indiana and later to a quaker settlement in illinois and he gave them their freedom papers. there was enough money left behind for his creditors. but his creditors wanted the slaves because remember, a slave was more valuable than a farm. so they went after the slaves, kidnapping them from this quaker settlement near peoria.
undercover, in the dead of night, and a team of quakers set off after them in a mother -- in another canoe. the fracas ended up in st. louis with a freedom suit filed by the family. eventually, everyone became free. they all inherited the property that david shipman had bought for them. leah charlottesville lived a double life. she was something of a gangster small -- gangster's moll. she was playing off two black men at the same time. one her husband, and the other a handsome, dapper barber. as she was running a boarding house, she was also the head of a getting of riverboat leaves that lived at her house. she importuned wealthy men who came to town, finding out how
much money they had and sent the these to get there good, to get their money to steal their , chests. this went on for quite a long pe riod of time. she was clever about this because she was always in church proclaiming her love on jesus on exactly the moment the thieves were grabbing the goods. she had an alibi and she made a point to sit near the front so she would be seen. no leupp placed -- now leah placed her children in the minister's home for guidance. and over the course of her life, she went to court not because her freedom was uncertain but in order to leverage someone who had threatened her livelihood. light skinned eliza tyler was deceived in one of the worst possible ways. she lived with an
african-american man as a common-law wife in illinois. and one day, a slave trader offered her common-law husband money to sell her to a brothel in new orleans. she was light-skinned, and so she could bring a higher price. she was deceived into boarding a steamboat. by the time she got to st. louis, she figured out what was going on and quickly made her way to court before she could be hustled off to the second steamboat. hector norton was given papers by her master for herself and child. he moved to new york. he did not need a slave. she lived independently in st. louis for a while among a community of free blacks. one day he changed his mind and traveled to st. louis and tried to sell her and his own child into slavery.
she filed a freedom suit and was free. but one of my favorite stories is the story of the duncan family. the duncan brothers, black and white brothers. imagine that when jessie duncan died, his nine black slaves were divided in the will among his six white sons. they all share the last name duncan and the common parlance of the day. each of the white duncan brothers inherited a different black duncan slave and the white duncan brothers were quite wild young men. each one had a different device. one was subject to alcohol.
one was subject to gambling. none of them were really womanizers. the one who got married left his wife after he had six children with her and went off to join the rest of the brothers. they drank a lot, they looked for get rich quick schemes, but basically they did no work and lived off slaves. they supported themselves by living off their slaves. there was a sandbar in the middle of the mississippi river. they could smuggle their slaves from one place to another back-and-forth, up and down the river. mining in lead, mining in salt. working wherever they could assign them. but for the next 30 years, one after another of the black duncan slaves establishes freedom and worked to get the others out. person after person, purchase, lawsuit, escape, lawsuit escape, kidnapped, lawsuit
escape. at the end of 30 years, the nine black duncan slaves, some of whom are brothers, had become the most upstanding leading established black men of the community of st. louis. they had founded a church, started businesses, married and raised families of their own. while the white duncan brothers lived out their wastrel lives and one after another died in poverty. in perhaps the perfect irony and poetic justice at the very end the black duncan brothers bought the remnants of inheritance that were given to their previous masters. well, i called the book "redemption songs" because it is a metaphor for the voices of the subordinated people who have been silenced in history.
it is redemption because it refers to the person's transformation of status from slave, property of another person to being a legal person an independent person themselves. and it is a song because it follows a discourse that has a particular set of conventions that go along with this kind of lawsuit. it is a song sung by the slave him or herself. a slave is trained to answer his master and to suit his purposes. yet, in suing for freedom, slave defies that master. when one sings a redemption song, one speaks truth to power. but not the full truth because a slave is not empowered to tell the full truth. just enough of the truth to be upsetting to the master to make a sound discordant with the legitimacy of that ownership and truth to be upsetting to the master to make legitimacy of
the ownership, and yet enough truth to meet the elements necessary on order to establish that redemption. that much and no more. at the crux of each of these cases is a story which i have tried to tell from the petitioner's standpoint. it is written from the slave's perspective, and these petitions ours leakingare seeking the slaves' own objection, which is freedom. hearing the muffled voices of the silenced population, and slavery itself created that silence, yet here is a chorus of songs. there are depositions and
witnesses that fill in missing notes. the singer is not alone on the stage, the song can be drawn out by other voices, you can sing more loudly because freed persons can sing more freely than petitioning slaves. these are not cases of rescue or grace. these are cases of entitlement so the voice has to be skilled and it has to speak more carefully. there is a spare nest to some of the songs, serving the political economy, and then each redemption song end by fading out to the quiets life. these lawsuits are dramatic and transform it, just like songs. thank you very much. [applause]
i would be delighted to respond to any questions or comments and i have been advised to tell people to go to one or the other microphones because it is necessary for the recording. >> thank you. could you address some of the procedural aspects of the cases? were these pro se, where is there a group with an illegal community that were seeking out these plaintiffs, and where they jury trials or judge trials? dr. vandervelde: thank you for
the question. there was a lawyer in the back of the courtroom who would be hearing the case, who had some spare time, and the judge would just appoint them. in the context of these cases, the remarkable fact that a lawyer was taking the case at all it's really amazing because in most procedural cases, to bring a case and proper up means you only get the fees waived. here, these individuals were appointed lawyers if they had enough stated to make out a claim. the cases were tried as often to juries as they were judges. the juries were all white, all men, and surprisingly, more than 100 times, they ruled for the slaves. >> this is a difficult question because it is not in a legal
arena, it is historical, psychological, but after your research and writing did you -- were you able to draw a conclusion as to the psychology of white america during this time? dr. vandervelde: yes. i think that -- i hope i am responding to your question. tell me if i am not. with 300 cases, you had a lot of cases to compare. this is a lot of paper, it is a lot of individuals, it is a lot of minutes of time going into these lawsuits documenting these lives. the most interesting psychological fact that i discovered, that i learned from this was about the fact that none of these people filed
lawsuits impulsivity. they knew what they were doing. they took the risk at a particular time. a thought about it. often times they had freedom long before they filed suit, but they needed some further trigger that meant that staying in place was going to be that much more uncomfortable than going through the process of bringing suit. thing is that if they brought suit, they might end up in jail as lydia's children were put in jail, for their safekeeping for several months, and so the following of suits were not done impulsively, recklessly. these individuals always had to calculate the strategies of survival with the resources that they had. and that is the psychology that i found most interesting. >> my question did not go to the
psychology of the slaves filing suit but to white america on the other side of the lawsuit. dr. vandervelde: oh, i am sorry. yes. the interesting thing about these lawsuits and the statute is that one would think it would not even happen at all, and i did a lot of research into why it is that the statute ever got passed in the first place, and a gap pass for a reason that does not have, you know, strong residents for us as doing the right thing. it got passed for the reason that missouri entered the union as part of the missouri compromise. so missouri enacted the statute because it thought of it as a sorting out. they had come into the union as a slave state. they felt that they needed to
maintain the balance and sort out the individuals who came to missouri. there was no abolitionist in evidence. preaching abolition was illegal. it was criminal during the period of these lawsuits. >> following the lawsuits today is complicated enough. i am curious what you found in regards to people becoming educated. it would be very difficult to have faith in somebody who said they would lead you through a lawsuit. can you talk about how they found out? or word-of-mouth? how they found out they could find freedom through a lawsuit. dr. vandervelde: yes, it was through networks in a free black community. there was no one who was leading the charge.
each of these individuals stepped forward. that was surprising to me. i thought i would see a movement. i did not see a movement. my understanding is that through word-of-mouth, the fact that this very simple rule meant that if you had resided in free territory, you would be free was the kind of information that would spread through the community. i recall there were always about six or seven of these cases going on. people could watch these cases occurring, and they would know when the judgment of freedom would announce, and one would expect that within the city of st. louis, that information would spread, and spread like wildfire. >> given the number of court cases, some 300 ruled in the favor of slaves. how one off, or how unique is
prescott scott, that rule in the opposite direction? -- is dred scott that ruled in the opposite direction? dr. vandervelde: exactly. >> and it seems that missouri law was going in the opposite direction, which was totally into this is to the dred scott decision. could you comment on that? dr. vandervelde: absolutely. if you look at dred scott in isolation, you would think it is just protectable that a slave would lose but dred scott was a game changer. dred scott ended the freedom suits. after dred scott, there was no longer a basis for bringing suit because one had been in a free sale so dred scott filed preceding suits in the face of remarkable amount of legal activity that had gone the other way for three decades. >> my question is related to
that. with so many lawsuits being filed for freedom, did you find any common thread about why only dred's got made it to the supreme court and none of these other cases did? dr. vandervelde: yeah. that i actually covered in my first book, "mrs. dred scott." i came to the conclusion that the scott family was unbelievably unlucky. it is not just one instance. it is the fact that if they had been able to go to trial the very first time, they would have been deemed freed because all the other cases that year were deemed free, but their lawyer had just left town. so just before trial, they were assigned a lawyer who did not know what he was doing and messed up. that was the first time they went to trial. then they were delayed by a fire
that burned out 16 square blocks of the town, and cholera. nobody could be called for jury because nobody would show up. people were dying in the largest epidemic that st. louis had ever had, so for a full year, there were no courts, there were no trials. during the course of this long 11-year trial, the nature of missouri changed. three new judges took the bench in missouri, and it is only a three-judge bench, so that is everybody. and those three judges decided against the notion of freedom by residents. the first game changer. now, dred was an aged slave with tuberculosis and probably not worth a whole lot at the time that he filed suit, but what was
at stake was his wife and his daughters, who were young, and vital, and healthy. and harriet filed suit as well. if dred scott had a separate case than harriet's, and harriet's had gone forward, instead of putting the wife's under the husband's, harriet had a stronger case, and the case would not have gone forward, and dred could have bought his freedom for very little money. so the circumstances were circumstances of extreme misfortune. you know, it is a misfortune that we all share. >> just another question. about a year ago, there was an author from columbia, and he had a book that i found amazing that he mentions how the
extraterritoriality principle is written into the constitution, which allowed for the future slave law. if you took a slave across into free states, it was now the burden on the state to help the individual retrieve it. a part of it was the freedom principle, such as if a horse ran across into a free state. i found that amazing that he talks about in his book that two delegates in south carolina wrote it into the constitution and he sort of implied that they knew what they got away with, but it set up this whole paradigm of it changed because additional law, it gave rights were there were no rights prior to all of these future slave acts and all of the cases. if you could comment on that, i would appreciate that. dr. vandervelde: sure. i'd be happen y to.
in january this year the 130th anniversary of the 13th amendment occurred, and it is the 13th amendment that would burst the language in the constitution. it is still printed in the constitution, so the fugitive slave clause is still in the constitution, but it is tied to the dred's got case, 14th and 15th amendments use the dred scott case, and they repudiate the language in a dred scott case, and filing the language necessary for those three constitutional amendments. >> thanks again for your talk. i was curious, i think you mentioned some of the kidnappings, and one of the
cases actually at counties named after them. i was wondering if the current residents know the history and i was your is about your thoughts of more recent attempts, especially in hollywood, to give attention to these untold stories, like "12 years a slave" and "belle." dr. vandervelde: thank you for your comment. i agree with you and i appreciate that insight. i'm quite certain that the people of indiana do not know that these two counties were named after individuals who perpetrated this type of torment and kidnapping. the reason i can be fairly certain about that is that until i found these papers, nobody knew of them. the papers were in a private collection. they really had not seen the light of day. they are now in a collection of the english papers of the university of chicago, but nobody has really linked them up with the two individuals who had counties named after them. it would please me knowing if
instead that the names of those counties would be changed, but i do not think that the people of indiana know that yet. well, thank you very much. i am waiting for my host. i really appreciate your coming i appreciate your interests, and i hope that you can see in these stories, stories of heroes who we have overlooked, and stories of individuals who we should really honor. two ivory much. -- thank you very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weeken