"You have no business to whip me": the freedom suits of Polly Wash and Lucy Ann Delaney.
This essay traces the fulfillment of Polly Wash's vow. Specifically, it shares a range of archival and contextual information on the freedom suits of Polly Wash and Lucy Delaney. It builds from Robert Moore, Jr.'s landmark discovery of basic records of Lucy Delaney's freedom suit, the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project's move to make freedom suits accessible to researchers, and a set of my own discoveries--including the fact that Delaney actually filed two suits tied to questions of her enslavement (one discussed in her narrative, and one not discussed at all).
Through recovering these contexts, the essay takes initial steps toward a richer and more historicized understanding of Delaney's narrative. To date, critical work on From the Darkness has been limited, in part because, like many Black women's narratives, Delaney's was generally ignored until the late 1980s, when Hazel Carby included a brief consideration of From the Darkness in her landmark Reconstructing Womanhood. Critics seem also to have struggled with the fact that Delaney's narrative deals primarily with events in the 1840s (contemporary with antebellum slave narratives) but was not written and published until the 1890s (and so contemporary with works like Iola Leroy). Thus, most discussions of key issues in Delaney's book, such as the textual representation of African American bodies and the physical space of the US courtroom (Lindon Barrett's essays are illustrative), remain fairly abstract and emphasize relatively ahistorical comparisons to antebellum slave narratives. Similarly, most work that places Delaney in dialogue with the events of the 1880s and 1890s--Frances Smith Foster's discussions and especially P. Gabrielle Foreman's fascinating but brief consideration of Delaney are illustrative--set aside the local contexts of Delaney's narrative and generally elide the fact that Delaney was writing about real events, was remembering, and was shaping those memories rhetorically.
While a full-scale reading of From the Darkness that addresses these absences is beyond the scope of this essay, by offering a better sense of the foundations of those memories, I hope to spur renewed discussion of Delaney's strategic retelling of her freedom suit--discussion that sees that re-telling as part of a multifaceted resistance to slavery and racism. The essay thus also calls on us to recognize and consider the fact that Delaney's account addresses a phenomenon--the freedom suit--considered in no other slave narrative in such depth and with such power. As such, Delaney's narrative must be recognized as a rare representative of the untold stories of hundreds of slaves who engaged in such actions and as a key text in the study of gender, race, and rhetoric in slave women's narratives.
I. Polly Wash
Suits like Polly Wash's, and later like Lucy Delaney's, are a phenomenon that has been surprisingly understudied. (2) Close to 300 case files for such suits, including the initial actions in both Dred and Harriet Scott's freedom suits, were only rediscovered in the late twentieth century, and several case files, including one of Delaney's two case files, remain missing.
Such suits often relied on an 1824 state law (built from 1807 territorial statutes) that held that persons unlawfully enslaved could sue for their freedom--specifically,
That is shall be lawful for any person held in slavery to petition the circuit court ... to sue as a poor person, and stating the ground upon which his or her claim to freedom is founded, and if ... the petition contains sufficient matter to authorize the commence [sic] of a suit, such court or judge may make an order that such person be permitted to sue as a poor person to establish his or her freedom, and assign the petitioner counsel.... And the court or judge shall, moreover, make an order that the petitioner have reasonable liberty to attend his or her counsel and the court, when occasion may require; and that the petitioner shall not be taken or removed out of the jurisdiction of the court, nor be subject to any severity because of his or her application for freedom.
In addressing the demands above, many freedom suits relied on a "once free, always free" approach--that is, for example, that extended residence in Illinois, which did not technically permit slavery, could make a slave free, and, "once free, always free." (3)
Thus, as per the statute, Polly Wash petitioned the court with the aid of attorney Harris Sproat and was granted the basic rights outlined above. Sproat was appointed as her counsel, and a long pre-trial process of Wash v. Magehan began. (4)
Just what Polly Wash knew of the protocols and history of freedom suits remains unclear, though we can make some educated guesses. Her suit for freedom was filed on October 3, 1839; it is mentioned only briefly in Delaney's narrative. By the date of her suit, she had been enslaved by a range of masters, aided her daughter Nancy in planning a successful escape to Canada, and attempted her own escape (Delaney 15-24). Echoing Delaney's account of these events, the court record for Wash's freedom suit notes owners Joseph Crockett (of Kentucky), Thomas Botts (of Missouri), Taylor Berry (a firebrand Missouri land speculator), and Fanny Berry (after Taylor Berry was killed in a duel) before Mary Berry Coxe. These records further show that Fanny Berry's second husband Robert Wash hired Polly Wash out for several months as a chambermaid on the steamer The Banner; she thus saw much of both the Missouri and Illinois sides of the Mississippi. Finally, both the narrative and court records agree that Polly Wash was sold to Joseph Magehan, a St. Louis lumberman and carpenter. (5) Thus, she certainly had a wide-ranging knowledge of slaveholders and slavery in St. Louis.
Polly Wash also had some knowledge of the possibilities for escape. Her sale to Magehan finally made her run, and, according to Delaney, she got as far as Chicago. From here, things get murkier. According to Delaney's narrative, which could well collapse her mother's escape and infamous later fugitive slave trials (including those of Shadrach Minkins and Anthony Bums), "hundreds of people gathered together and declared that mother should not be returned to slavery; but fearing that Mr. Cox [sic] would wreak his vengeance upon me, my mother finally gave herself up to her captors and returned to St. Louis" (23). No other account of such events has yet surfaced, and Delaney might have modified the circumstances based on her mother's reportage or on her own sense of motherhood.
Still, fragmentary criminal court records suggest that Wash was involved in an altercation before filing her suit. The St. Louis Circuit Court's index to criminal proceedings for 1838-1842 notes a request to indict a Polly Wash for "attempt to kill" (np). The record book that this index covers is missing, though the record book page number noted for Polly Wash's indictment--page 91--would date to early or mid-1839. No case file for this indictment has yet been found. That the index lists only a single page suggests that an indictment was requested (and perhaps granted) but never pursued. Such can only be speculation, but the question that must arise from this entry is: did Polly Wash use physical force in an escape attempt?
This question becomes more pressing given that the request for Wash's indictment took place after one of the most complex moments in St. Louis's racial history. On April 28, 1836, Francis McIntosh, an African American steward on the steamboat Flora, was involved in a fight that broke out when George Hammond, a deputy sheriff, and William Mull, a deputy constable, attempted to arrest two other Black boatmen. When the boatmen escaped, Hammond and Mull arrested McIntosh. While they were taking him to the St. Louis Jail, in the words of historian Louis Gerteis, "McIntosh drew a knife ... struck Hammond on the lower chin and drove the knife into his neck, severing the right carotid artery. Struggling to aid Hammond, Mull received a serious wound in his abdomen.... Hammond fell dead in the street while Mull shouted out an alarm and gave chase as best he could before passing out.... " (8). McIntosh was caught, subdued, and brought to the jail. Soon after, a white mob "pushed its way into the jail ... took hold of McIntosh, and dragged him into the street. Unnamed persons chained him to a tree, stacked wood around him, and burned him to death" (8).
These events changed the national debate on slavery. Elijah Lovejoy was driven from St. Louis for his damning criticism of the city's justice system, setting into motion the events that led to Lovejoy's own martyrdom in Alton. The ironically-named Judge Luke Lawless called a grand jury together, told them in a lengthy speech that they need not investigate the murders of Hammond and Mull because McIntosh was dead, and then, though he harangued the jury about the evils of lynch law, instructed them that if they found McIntosh's lynching to be the act of "many," they should act not at all in the matter. They listened: no indictments were issued (Tabscott 37-39; Gerteis 10-16). While many St. Louis whites agreed with Lawless, some city leaders were anxious to demonstrate that their courts and citizens were more civilized. (6) Polly Wash s indictment would have been heard during this period, and so the memory of the McIntosh lynching and the sense of the nation's eyes being on St. Louis may have helped her.
Thus Polly Wash learned about slave law. She might have learned about freedom suits during this period; she might have learned about them even earlier, given her residence with Robert Wash, who sat on the three-judge Missouri Supreme Court that decided several early freedom suits. (7) Further, a notable number of the slaves of the "founding families" of St. Louis--Chouteau, Cabanne, Sarpy, and Papin slaves--filed such suits; these were the exact families that the successful Wash and the up-and-coming Coxes wanted to mingle with. (8) St. Louis's Black community also seems to have developed a broad sense of how the suits worked, and white St. Louis knew enough about the suits to object occasionally; as Moore notes, "Pro-slavery St. Louisans blamed lawyers hungry for business for the number of freedom suits to reach the courts. In 1837 a writer calling himself 'Topaz' complained in a St. Louis newspaper that the liberty of suing for freedom 'had become abused, at least in St. Louis, by the ruthless encouragement of those who left-handedly profit by such suits'" ("A Ray" 8). Because most records of payments to attorneys are either no longer extant or remain unprocessed and the rest lack specific details, we do not know whether attorneys could live off of such work. Research has demonstrated, though, that the lawyers who filed and tried freedom suits for African American plaintiffs seem to have fallen into three general camps: those who took such cases because of the challenge involved, those who added them to their regular case load (perhaps out of conviction), and those who did only occasional work. Sproat was clearly in the third camp. (9)
"Once free, always free": these precedents established by previous freedom suits would have encouraged Polly Wash. Perhaps just as importantly, even if she lost her suit, she was guaranteed, to the extent that slaves could be guaranteed, continued residence in St. Louis, that is near daughter Lucy, during what might be a long wait for trial. She was also guaranteed some limited protection against violent reprisals. Still there were risks in such a suit, too: if Magehan won, he would have treated Wash as a troublemaker; he might have made good on Coxe's promise to sell her to the deep South; he might have done worse.
If Missouri law gave Wash some hope, though, it also illustrated the justice system's deep ties to the economics of slavery. At Magehan's request--one common in freedom suits--on January 20, 1840, presiding judge Luke Lawless ordered "that the Sheriff take possession of" Polly Wash and "hire her out to the best advantage during the pendancy of this suit ..." (CCRB 10: 87). If Wash lost, her wages would compensate both the State and Magehan. She was lucky: the man who hired her, Elijah Haydon, lived within the city limits and, apparently, allowed her relative freedom of movement and association. (10) Either through Sproat's aid, Haydon's aid, a combination, or her own powers of persuasion, Wash was able to travel to Illinois in March 1840 to begin to communicate with possible witnesses--and to ensure that when depositions were taken in April 1840, the deponents would remember her kindly. In short, Polly Wash seems to have "primed" her witnesses. When deposed, all of those witnesses noted her extended residence in Illinois, some noted former master Crockett's awareness of Illinois laws against slavery, and some even noted that he promised to free her. (11) Initially her case looked promising. Then, though, as many freedom suits did, the case languished.
II. Lucy Delaney
When Polly Wash filed her freedom suit, Lucy Delaney had already taken her escaped sister's place as the slave of Mary Berry Coxe and her husband, Henry Sidney Coxe. Both Coxes were rich and privileged. However, the Coxes' wealth, in the perennial cliche, did not lead to happiness. Their two children died in infancy, and both Coxes seem to have had fiery personalities even before these tragedies. In January 1845, Mary Coxe took the fairly extreme step of filing for divorce. (12) Her initial petition asserted that, soon after her marriage, Coxe "became a habitual drunkard, indulging himself in the excessive use of ardent spirits especially at night, & in the privacy of the family." By the end of the marriage, she said in her petition, he "was drunk part of almost every day, and sometimes for many days together." Because of his "habit of intoxication," she claimed, his "very nature seemed to be changed: he became arbitrary, & exacting in his domestic authority; severe & morose in his temper; and abusive & insulting in his manner & conversation." For years, she claimed, "she bore the misery of her lot, as patiently as she could." Then "he charged her with want of chastity, with being unfaithful to his bed--he called her a whore!"--and accused her of being responsible for the children's deaths. (13) She finally left their home.
Henry Coxe aggressively denied all of these charges. He asserted that she "abandoned" him and that he drank only "as was customary, among gentlemen, at table, or in the social circle" and had been dry since October 1843. Moreover, Coxe claimed that "The cup he had habitually to taste, during the period of his alleged inebriety was a different one--and bitter were its elements ... such as no affectionate wife ever put to the lips of her husband.... [H]er temper--her violence--her transports of passion--her habitual outbreaks of personal disrespect & crimination, poisoned his peace, and made him a wretched man." (14) Nonetheless, Mary Berry Coxe withdrew her suit in May 1846; apparently, the Coxes agreed to live separately, married in name only. It is no wonder then, that, as Delaney's narrative recounts, her mother had fears that Henry Coxe--and perhaps Mary Coxe, too--would turn to "wreck ... vengeance" on Delaney (Delaney 23).
Soon after her mother filed her freedom suit, though, Delaney's circumstances changed. Mary Coxe's younger sister, Martha, married David D. Mitchell a Virginia-born fur trader and regional Superintendent for Indian Affairs. Delaney seems to have been given to the young couple as a wedding present. Tensions between Delaney and her new mistress (who may have bordered on manic-depressive) escalated quickly. (15)
The first task Martha Mitchell assigned Delaney was "the weekly washing and ironing" (Delaney 24). Laundry, as historian Tera Hunter notes, "was the single most onerous chore in the life of a nineteenth-century woman, and the first chore she would hire someone else to perform whenever the slightest bit of discretionary income was available" (56). The laundress would begin by carrying perhaps fifty gallons of water per load. She would build a fire, warm the water, and then soak the clothes. After soaking (which was often done overnight), she would scrub each piece of clothing using a laundry board; her soap would probably be made of lye, a stinging skin irritant. She would often have to boil the clothes before rinsing them. Sometimes, a second rinse--which might include more work with irritating chemicals--would be necessary. After wringing them individually, she would hang the clothes to line-dry. Those clothes that needed ironing--and many did--would demand use of heavy flat irons that, once again, had to be heated. Bleaching and starching caused even more complications--as did laundering some of the fine fabrics and bedding that Martha Mitchell undoubtedly used. In addition to the obvious risks from fire and various chemicals, doing laundry thus strained arms, legs, back, and especially hands It is no wonder that, as Marie Schwartz notes, "only 'the largest girls' and women engaged in it." (16) By this time, Delaney was probably approaching her adult height: five feet, three-and-one-half inches. (17)
Delaney's narrative reports that, after repeated failures because of her inexperience ("all this time" hearing Martha Mitchell "scolding vigorously"), Delaney finally yelled back "You don't know nothing, yourself, about it.... [I]f you had any feeling you would get someone to teach me, and then I'd do well enough" (25). Threatened with physical punishment, she then told her mistress, "You have no business to whip me. I don't belong to you" (26)
Mitchell though, proved "bound to carry out her threat of whipping me," and Delaney "rebelled against such government, and would not permit her to strike me; she used shovel tongs, and broomstick in vain, as I disarmed her as fast as she picked up each weapon Infuriated ... Mrs. Mitchell declared that she would report me to Mr. Mitchell and have him punish me" (27). But rather than whip her, Mitchell decided to sell her to a trader headed for the deep South Thus, as soon as she could, Delaney "ran lightly down the stairs, out of the front door to the street, and with fleet foot, I skimmed the road which led to my mother's door, and, reaching it, stood trembling in every limb with terror and fatigue. ... I was soon inside, cowering with fear in the darkness ... until my imagination had almost converted the little cottage into a boat, and I was steaming down South" (30).
Delaney's narrative summarizes the next events simply: "On the morning of the 8th of September, 1842, my mother sued Mr. D. D. Mitchell for the possession of her child, Lucy Ann Berry. My mother, accompanied by the sheriff, took me from my hiding place and conveyed me to the jail ... and there met Mr. Mitchell with Mr. H. S. Cox, his brother-in-law" (33). What emerges from other extant documents is more complex but agrees with the general tenor of Delaney's statements.
We do not, and perhaps will never, know why Wash and Delaney chose to file a freedom suit, especially given the length of Polly Wash's suit. While that suit held out some hope of victory and seems to have allowed her a better life, Nancy's escape might have offered a stronger temptation. Perhaps Lucy was too young for what would be a much longer and more complex escape than her sister's; perhaps Polly's more recent return weighed on both of their minds. Perhaps Polly Wash and Lucy Delaney--who had already been through so much together--could not bear to be parted yet again.
Polly Wash did, indeed, bring the suit, but it was not, per se, a suit for possession of her child, as she was herself still a slave and could not own anything or anyone legally. Thus, with the aid of an attorney, she brought the suit as Delaney's "next friend." The file for this initial case--Britton v. Mitchell, bafflingly filed under the name "Lucy Ann Britton"--is, unfortunately, lost. (18) Still reading Delaney's narrative in dialogue with other extant court records, we can piece together a fuller sense of the suit than is chronicled in From the Darkness Cometh the Light. Both Delaney's narrative and the Circuit Court Record Book, for example, note that the presiding judge Bryan Mullanphy called for a bond if Mitchell chose to reclaim Delaney (Delaney 33; CCRB 13: 391-92). The bond was high at $2,000, and was designed to ensure that Mitchell complied with the statute's calls to keep Delaney in the court's jurisdiction. If Mitchell refused to pay--as many owners did--Delaney would, like her mother, be in the custody of the sheriff and most likely be hired out.
Mitchell posted the bond but then ordered Delaney jailed. Delaney's narrative suggests that Mitchell was mainly concerned about losing his "property": she quotes Mitchell as saying "her mother or some of her crew might run her off, just to make me pay the two thousand dollars...." (34) But Mitchell's demand also ensured she would sit in the St. Louis jail until her case was heard. He was, in short, punishing her. Delaney narrates: "I was put in a cell, under lock and key, and there remained for seventeen long and dreary months.... [T]hrough his [Mitchell's] instrumentality, I was shut away from the sunlight...." (34-35).
Court records are clear that Delaney did indeed spend the next nine months in jail. In May 1843, perhaps recognizing the mounting expense of keeping her jailed, Mitchell finally requested that she be hired out. Still, no record of such hiring exists, and so Delaney's narrative may well be accurate in its assertion that she spent the full 17 months before her trial in jail. (19) Though that jail had been updated in 1841 to provide "a larger and more secure" facility, it remained cold, damp, and overcrowded. An 1856 commission appointed by the Circuit Court called special attention "to the apartments allotted to the females. We found [them] crow[d]ed in a Roome [sic] much too small and badly ventilated ... the only place in the jail for females [is one] which we think impossible to keepe [sic] clean and comfortable. There are now confined in Jail 84 prisoners." Among its recommendations, the commission suggested "that a water closet should be constructed in each cell" and that "a general system of drainage [be] adopted which would at once carry the filth from the cells into the sewer" because "the stench from the necessary utensils now used in the cells is extremely offensive." (20)
Beyond From the Darkness, we have one additional piece of evidence that speaks specifically to Delaney's suffering in the St. Louis jail. On December 13, 1842, her attorney came before Judge Mullanphy to complain about the effects of the deplorable conditions on Delaney's health: "she is suffering from a severe cold occasioned as she believes from a deficiency of clothing and the dampness of the room in which she is confined, and that had it not been for the Careful attention of her mother who visited her frequently her sufferings would have been incalculable, and she believes that death would have been the consequence of such cruelty" (CCRB 13: 391; Moore, "A Ray" 6). As per statute, the judge ordered an investigation--but it was an investigation by the jailer himself, who, of course, told Mullanphy the next day that "said petitioner is well clothed and comfortably lodged" (13: 392). The matter was dropped. During the months that followed, Delaney says, her "heart was full of bitterness. I could see only gloom which seemed to deepen and gather close to me as I neared the courtroom" (39).
A week after Mitchell brought his motion to hire Delaney out, on June 6, 1843, Polly Wash's freedom suit against Joseph Magehan was finally tried in front of Judge Mullanphy and a jury of 12 white men, most of whom were much like Magehan in background and class status. (21) We cannot know exactly what Wash's attorney argued that day; no transcripts of proceedings of this kind seem to have been taken. We do know that Polly Wash would not have testified; Missouri state law barred African Americans from doing so in such suits. Sproat most likely focused his arguments on proving one basic fact: that Joseph Crockett had kept Polly Wash in Illinois for more than 60 days and had not registered her. If this claim were true, Illinois state law would have freed her--before her sales to Thomas Botts or Taylor Berry, before her inheritance by Mary Berry Coxe, and long before her sale to Joseph Magehan. In short, Sproat probably argued that Polly Wash, "once free," should be "always free." (22)
He was apparently effective. The jurors found that Polly Wash "was not nor is she now a slave" and that she should "be liberated and entirely set free from ... [Magehan] and from all persons claiming by, through, or under him by title derived since the Commencement of this suit" (CCRB 14: 67). Nonetheless, it must have been a bittersweet moment. Even as the jury recognized Polly Wash's freedom, instead of awarding her the $500 she sought in punitive damages, they gave her a single dollar (14: 67). There is no extant record that Polly Wash ever collected that dollar. (23)
Theoretically, Lucy Delaney's suit should have been decided by Polly Wash's: given that Wash "was not nor is she now a slave," Delaney, legally following her mother's condition, should likewise no longer have been seen as a slave. The cases, though, were filed separately, and there were no guarantees. Eight long months passed until, on February 7 and 8, 1844, Delaney's case was finally heard. Like most freedom suits, it received no newspaper coverage and probably excited little attention outside of those directly involved. (24)
Delaney had a painful shock as she readied to go to the courtroom: her mother was absent--"She had lingered many days about the jail expecting my case would be called, and finally when called to trial the dear, faithful heart was not present to sustain me" (Delaney 44). Thus, though Delaney describes the day as "a bright, sunny day, a day which the happy and care-free would drink in with a keen sense of enjoyment," she also says that she "could not see one gleam of brightness in my future" (39). In context, though, what critics since Carby have treated as a baffling move in an autobiography that idealizes representations of motherhood may simply have been tied to the reality of Wash's life. As a laundress only recently freed, every day's work was probably necessary simply to meet basic needs (not to mention to aid Delaney's freedom suit and to provide the "Careful attention" she gave the ill Delaney while in jail [CCRB 13: 391]). Perhaps Polly Wash simply could take no more days away from her work. Even had she come, she would likely have been barred from the proceedings because of her race.
Delaney's attorneys might have offered the girl some comfort. Although they were white men, Polly Wash had hand-picked them to fight for her daughter. The "Mr. Murdock" who is noted briefly in the narrative and who seems to have handled much of the preparation of Delaney's case, was Francis Butter Murdoch, one of the most important slave attorneys in the history of the St. Louis freedom suits. (25) And according to the narrative, Polly Wash moved to supplement him with an even stronger attorney: "mother went to Judge Edward Bates and begged him to plead the case" (36). Bates was a legal powerhouse. The Virginia-born brother of Missouri politician Frederick Bates, he was named the Northern District of Missouri's prosecutor in 1818 by Territorial Governor William Clark, whom he supported ardently. Though Clark lost the contest to become the state's first governor soon after, new governor Alexander McNair offered Bates an important olive branch: the role of Attorney General. Bates left the position in 1821 to serve as a US District Attorney and to work in a lucrative private practice (as the Chouteau family attorney), but he went on to serve in the Missouri legislature and, later, the US Congress.
Bates's relationship to African Americans and slavery was complex: at best, he was a lukewarm colonizationist, though he owned slaves at the time Delaney's case was tried. We cannot have a full sense of his motivation to work on Delaney's case: he actively defended slaveowners in other freedom suits, but at still other times, he seems to have been solely motivated by the drama of presenting a case, by the "game" of it. Such cases undoubtedly offered lively oratorical possibilities. In Delaney's case, for example, there was the distinct possibility that former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Wash would be called as a witness; Bates and he had crossed before. If Wash was called, as Delaney's attorney, Bates would cross-examine him in front of a jury that would likely hear of Polly Wash's case--including how Robert Wash had falsely enslaved her. From a standpoint centered on the competitive practice of law as an art, then, Delaney's case offered Bates much. Regardless of his motives, though, he would want to win--and that knowledge might have given Delaney further hope. (26)
Delaney also received some comfort from an unexpected source: "the jailer's sister-in-law, Mrs. Lacy" (Delaney 39). On the first day of Delaney's trial, when the author "could not feel anything but rebellion against my lot," Mrs. Lacy spoke to her "of submission and patience" (39). On the morning of the second day, when she was trembling with "fright and emotion," Delaney writes, "I sent a message to Mrs. Lacy to request permission for me to go to her room, that she might assist me in dressing. I had done a great deal of sewing for Mrs. Lacy, for she had showed me much kindness, and was a good Christian. She gladly assisted me, and under her willing hands I was soon made ready" (45). The jailer referred to here was Benjamin Lacy. Sources tentatively suggest that he was more concerned about prisoners than his immediate predecessor had been. (27) We cannot definitively say which of Lacy's sisters-in-law aided Delaney, as Lacy had six brothers, all of whom were married at the time; however, a range of evidence strongly suggests that it was Minerva Ann (Doyle) Lacy, the wife of Benjamin Lacy's youngest brother, Lewis Fernandez Lacy.
If it was indeed Minerva Lacy who counseled "submission and patience," she did so out of her own experience. At the time of Delaney's trial, she was about three months pregnant with her fourth child. Two of her first three children, Julia Elizabeth and Emma Jane, had died in infancy, the latter a mere seven months before Delaney's trial date. Only a few years older than Delaney, Minerva Lacy might have paused if she reflected on just how different their lives had been--and, still, how much each had been touched by sorrow. (28)
Whatever she said, Lacy's kindness steadied Delaney enough to allow her to walk with the sheriff to the imposing building now known as "the Old Courthouse." In 1844, it was far from old: its new west wing was "nearing completion," and the wing's first floor courtroom had been assigned to the Circuit Court, which would hear Delaney's case (Moore, The Old Courthouse 5). Court historian Moore relates that "this room was impressive ... with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. It was described in the city newspapers as having fluted columns and massive railings around the bar, with a lofty ceiling. The columns were placed in circular fashion, giving the room a graceful, curved appearance rather than a boxy look" (5). In the custody of the sheriff, Delaney would have been led through the massive on-going construction, past carpenters like Joseph Magehan as well as a host of recent immigrants none-too-friendly to African Americans. She also would probably have been led through one of the "huge, twelve-foot tall doors" that were hung in the court hallways in the 1840s and remain there (5).
Then Delaney would have been led into the massive courtroom and seen first the raised bench and Judge Mullanphy. She would have been led to the plaintiff's counselor's table to face not only the judge and the sheriff, but also Mitchell and his counsel. At the far right of the room, 12 chairs for the jury, probably on risers, would have stared back at her. Behind her, the courtroom gallery accommodated a range of spectators. A massive wooden railing would have separated her none-too-comfortably from the "44 elegantly crafted wooden desks draped with a fine, green baize material" arranged in a semi-circle, each "assigned to the city's top lawyers by seniority" (5). Some of those desks would certainly be filled with attorneys interested in hearing Bates represent "an obscure negro girl" (Delaney 36).
The men in the jury chairs and the man on the bench, though, must have seemed more imposing to Delaney. All judged to be "good and lawful," the 12 white male jurors were demographically comparable to those in her mother's case--mainly tradesmen and merchants, including some slaveowners. (29) Delaney might have known of Mullanphy from her mother's account of her trial or even from the Coxes' dinner table. Either way, she would probably have known of his charitable endeavors: his rich father, John Mullanphy, had set a pattern of charity in his lifetime--donating land and funds for the city's first hospital as well as the Sisters of Charity orphanage and school--and Bryan Mullanphy carried on this tradition of aiding the less fortunate. If she did know these things, though, Delaney would also have known of Mullanphy's reputation as an unpredictable eccentric. (30)
Exactly what happened at Delaney's trial remains, in part, conjecture. From the Darkness Cometh the Light is the only account we have of Delaney's trial and, because it was written 50 years after the events it reconstructs, it needs to be read critically. That narrative account, though, paired with the sense of freedom suits established above, suggests that, in trying the case, Bates relied heavily on the principles tied to Delaney's mother's condition: once free, always free. This condition, of course, would be why Bates pushed Wash to testify that "the defendant, Lucy A. Berry, was a mere infant when he came in possession of Mrs. Fannie Berry's estate, and that he often saw the child in the care of its reputed mother, Polly, and to his best knowledge and belief, he thought Lucy A. Berry was Polly's own child" (Delaney 40). Similarly, these concepts explain why "Judge Bates chained his hearers with the graphic history of my mother's life, from the time she played on Illinois banks, through her trials in slavery, her separation from her husband, her efforts to become free, her voluntary return to slavery for the sake of her child, Lucy, and her subsequent efforts in securing her own freedom.... (41-42). Most stunning--but also perhaps most convincing to the jury--are what Delaney reports as Bates's final words: "Gentlemen of the jury, I am a slave-holder myself, but, thanks to the Almighty God, I am above the base principle of holding anybody a slave that has as good right to her freedom as this girl has been proven to have; she was free before she was born; her mother was free, but kidnapped in her youth, and sacrificed to the greed of negro traders, and no free woman can give birth to a slave child, as it is direct violation to the laws of God and man!" (42)
Bates, then, according to Delaney's account, spun "once free, always free" into an argument that reminded jurors who held slaves, depended on slaves, or simply supported slavery that the concept of an individual African American as "once free, always free" is far from abolitionist. To Bates--as to the majority of the Missouri Supreme Court for several years--such a principle actually depended on recognizing and allowing legal slavery: if an individual African American was not "once free"--through birth to a free mother, residence, manumission, or other circumstances carefully specified in state law--then she or he had no legal right to demand freedom. (31) This syllogism, of course, explains why Bates could be a slaveholder and still support Lucy Delaney; this premise is why, he argues by extension, the jury could do the same.
After Bates closed, Delaney was removed from the courtroom, "returned to the jail and locked in the cell which I had occupied for seventeen months, filled with the most intense anguish" (43). The next morning, the sheriff, William Milburn, walked her from the jail to the courthouse. Though Bates's "bright and smiling" face "imbued" her "with renewed hope," when she finally entered the courtroom, Delaney was "dazed" from her "long confinement" filled with "harrowing anxiety" (46-47). But, as noted in the St. Louis Circuit Court Record Book--in the first verdict listed for the day--the jury found that, like her mother, Lucy Delaney "was not, nor is she now a slave in manner and form as the said Defendant hath in his said plea alleged" (14: 368). The record also indicates that "it is therefore considered by the Court that said Plaintiff be liberated and entirely set free from the Defendant and from all persons claiming by, through, or under him by title derived since the commencement of this suit" (14: 368).
Mitchell's lawyer, according to Delaney's narrative, "jumped up and exclaimed" that "this girl" should "be remanded to jail" because Mitchell did "not consider that the case has had a fair trial"; the Court record shows that Mitchell did, indeed, lodge a motion for a new trial (Delaney 48; CCRB 14: 368). But Bates "was on his feet in a second and cried: 'For shame! Is it not enough that this girl has been deprived of her liberty for a year and a hall that you must still pursue her after a fair and impartial trial before a jury ...? I demand that she be set at liberty at once" (Delaney 48-49). The judge concurred, and according to Delaney's narrative, she "could have kissed the feet of my deliverers, but I was too full to express my thanks, but with a voice trembling with tears I tried to thank Judge Bates for all his kindness" (49). Then Delaney went back to the jail, of all places, to see the Lacys--probably specifically Mrs. Lacy--"to bid them all good-bye and thank them" (49). She reports that "they rejoiced with me in my good fortune and wished me much success and happiness in years to come" (49).
In reality, though, Delaney was now only a little better than a slave in the eyes of the law. The case heard immediately after her verdict was announced only emphasized this status: free Black Madison Wheeler, who filed suit on a writ of habeas corpus against the State of Missouri and the Marshall of the City of St. Louis, had been committed to the St. Louis jail and "charged with being in the City and County of St. Louis without license" (CCRB 14: 368). Wheeler was lucky: the court discharged him with the admonishment to ensure his paperwork as a free African American was in order. Usually, such cases ended in fines and removal from the city limits. (32)
Like Wheeler, Delaney would quickly have to register with the city, find someone to post bond in support of her registration, and deal with the multi-layered racism and classism that plagued her fellows. Besides the already significant restrictions on free Blacks in St. Louis, she must have worried that Mitchell's motion for a new trial would develop into an appeal. Undoubtedly angry at the verdict, he had also filed a motion to "retax" the "costs filed" that the jury had found him responsible for (CCRB 15: 76). (33)
And thus it was that Polly Wash, again acting as Delaney's "next friend," filed a second suit--one not mentioned in Delaney's narrative and never noted by literary historians--in Delaney's name against Mitchell. (34) This suit, for damages sustained through Mitchell's false imprisonment of Delaney, sought $1,000. There is some possibility that Wash and Delaney hoped a jury might understand Delaney's horrible confinement in the St. Louis jail even if they would not consider her false enslavement as "imprisonment." Indeed, perhaps in separating the suits--one for Delaney's freedom and a second for damages--Wash or Delaney or even Murdoch (who represented Delaney in the second suit, too) hoped to avoid Polly Wash's "win" of an insulting dollar. Still while historians estimate that perhaps three-eighths of the St. Louis freedom suits filed were won by enslaved plaintiffs, far fewer enslaved plaintiffs actually won monetary damages. (35)
It seems more likely that the second suit was defensive--against Mitchell's expressed desire to appeal and against further harassment. The suit, would, of course, take significant time and resources for Mitchell to fight. A prideful man, he might also not have relished the thought of losing again--even if it were for a token dollar. A summons was issued to Mitchell on May 13, 1844; when N. C. Osborn, one of Sheriff William Milburn's deputies, attempted to serve him three days later by reading him the summons, Mitchell "refused to hear" it. Eventually, however, he did have to admit that the suit was real, and he engaged Spalding and Tiffany, one of the best firms in the city, to defend him. In early November of 1844, they filed an answer that "disputes the wrong and injury" and claimed that Mitchell was "not guilty of said trespass." (36)
This detail, though, is where the case file for Delaney's second suit ends. The case does not seem to have progressed, and Murdoch seems to have taken no depositions and summoned no other witnesses. On June 3, 1845, Murdoch went before the Court on Delaney's behalf to say "that she will not further prosecute her suit in this behalf but voluntarily suffers the same to be dismissed at her costs" (16: 271). The Court concluded, thus, that she would "take nothing by her said suit, but that the defendant go thereof without delay and recover of said plaintiff his costs and charges in this behalf experienced and have thereof execution" (16: 271). No record has yet been found of what those costs might be or whether Mitchell sought to recover them. (37)
Unfortunately, we cannot move beyond speculation in seeing the second suit as defensive. What we do know comes down to this: Mitchell is never again mentioned in Delaney's narrative; Delaney dropped her second suit precipitously; Mitchell took no further legal action against Delaney or Wash. In short, Mitchell seems to have decided to let Polly Wash and Lucy Delaney alone.
How, then, does the new information presented here change the ways we read Lucy Delaney's narrative and life? First, of course, it reminds us of the care we need to take in questioning the authenticity of first-person ex-slave narratives. Even though Delaney wrote her story close to 50 years after she won her freedom, she is exceedingly accurate--at times, amazingly so--on dates, places, names, and events. Studying what seems to be an unbelievable story--a slave mother and daughter who sue for their freedom, with the daughter represented by Lincoln's future Attorney General--only reminds us that the seemingly unbelievable was part and parcel of the slave system. Beyond such, researchers need to recognize that, though there were over 300 freedom suits filed in St. Louis alone, From the Darkness Cometh the Light is the only extended first-person account we have by one of the enslaved plaintiffs. The exciting work being done by the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project should sharpen our sense of these cases; indeed, my own research with the St. Louis freedom suits shows that one of their main stories is a story of how Polly Wash and other enslaved women fought for their children's freedom. Delaney's narrative thus fills multiple gaps in our received history.
In this vein, though, the absence of the second suit from Delaney's narrative suggests not only that she was thinking about narrative structure--because leaving it out allows a powerful, sentimental ending after a climactic courtroom scene--but also, probably, about politics. Writing in the 1890s to a largely local audience, Delaney undoubtedly wanted to advance a sense of her mother's power and of what and how white men should be (the heroic Bates rather than Coxe, Mitchell, or Wash). (38) The first suit was clearly about freedom; the second suit was much more complex--and bordered on an argument for reparations. Thus, like Douglass and Jacobs--or her St. Louis contemporaries William Wells Brown and Elizabeth Keckley--Delaney was writing her history for a purpose and with a keen sense of purpose.
Within the contexts given here, that purpose might be misunderstood as advancing agreement with Bates's closing argument--that some were enslaved legally and morally. No perspective is further from Delaney's narrative. Indeed, before she recounts her trial, she reconstructs both her sister Nancy's escape and her mother's attempted escape--complete with mob action. She also speaks in moving depth about the ways the Berry family sundered Taylor Berry's promises to free her father--and of how his sale to Mississippi destroyed her family. (39) In many ways, the sense we come away with from a contextual reading of Delaney's narrative is that it resists slavery on every level--radically, complexly, completely.
That sense is certainly the one Delaney emphasizes in reporting the events immediately following her trial--perhaps one more reason for the elision of the second suit. When Polly Wash heard of her victory, Delaney writes, "she hurried to meet me, and hand in hand we gazed into each other's eyes and saw the light of freedom there, and we felt in our hearts that we could with one accord cry out: 'Glory to God in the highest, and peace and good will towards men!'" (50). Delaney's allusion to Luke 2:14 (part of the story of Christmas) suggests that the verdict delivered a new birth for both.
Lucy Delaney was a free woman, and her free mother was holding her in her arms.
The author wishes to thank Jodie Gardner, Michael Everman, Kristin Zapalac, John Ernest, and the staffs of the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project, the Missouri State Archives, the Missouri Historical Society Library, African American Review, and Saginaw Valley State University for their kind assistance in the preparation of this essay. Some of the work on this essay was supported by a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities; the author kindly acknowledges their support and notes that any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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(1.) These facts are summarized in Delaney 12-20. On Fanny Berry Wash's death, see 20 Jan. 1829 Missouri Republican. Both Fanny Christy and her first husband Taylor Berry were cousins of President Zachary Taylor; see Brewer, passim. On Taylor Berry's probate, see Berry Will; Howard County Circuit Court Record, 3: 29-31, 34-37, 54, 88-89. I have not yet determined the identity of Mrs. Underhill.
(2.) While freedom suits in general are briefly considered in several of the standard histories of slave law, the only detailed studies of the St. Louis freedom suits are by Foley and by Moore, "A Ray."
(3.) See An Act to Enable Persons Held in Slavery to Sue for Their Freedom. See also "About the Freedom Suits."
(4.) In addition to Wash's case file (Polly Wash v. Joseph M. Magehan), for the initial actions on the case, see St. Louis Circuit Court Record Book (hereafter abbreviated CCRB) 10: 87.
(5.) For biographical information on Magehan, see 1840 Federal Census of Missouri, City of St. Louis, 126; 1859 St. Louis, Missouri Citizen's Directory, 314; 1860 Federal Census of Missouri, City of St. Louis, Ward 3, 203; Probate File of the Estate of Joseph M. Magehan. Magehan is also mentioned several times in the St. Louis Circuit Court Record Books.
(6.) Many persons in St. Louis, for example, saw the handling of the Madison Henderson case a few years later as an attempt to redeem the city from the McIntosh lynching; see Seematter, and also Chambers. Besides hearing of the events surrounding McIntosh from members of St. Louis's free and enslaved Black communities, Polly Wash could have heard about them through her owners. Robert Wash was a colleague of Lawless (though the two at times disagreed) and of then-St. Louis Mayor John F. Darby; Henry Coxe was a close associate of John O'Fallon (William Clark's ward), who was the foreman of the grand jury.
(7.) For basic biographical information on Wash, see Thomas, 350-51; History of the Bench and Bar of Missouri, 112; Houck 22n18; Billon, Annals of Territorial St. Louis, 162 and 241-42; Wash descendent to the author, March 2004; typescript genealogy of the Wash family, Fitzwilliams Papers, Missouri Historical Society. For informative examples of his work with the court, see Missouri Supreme Court, Decisions of the Supreme Court of Missouri, 1827-1830.
(8.) Marguerite v. Choteau, which originated in the St. Louis Courts and persisted for over a decade, was probably one of the best known freedom suits that came before Robert Wash during his time on the Court.
(9.) While, as Zapalac has shared with me from her work in progress, the number of suits dropped dramatically when Missouri law removed most support for poor persons' attorneys in 1845, it is doubtful that attorneys earned much money from such cases. Sproat handled only one other freedom suit prior to Wash's-and lost.
(10.) Moore notes that, when hired from the sheriff, slaves like Polly Wash faced the "perils of working for a variety of masters with no stake in their continued well-being" ("A Ray" 6). The elderly Haydon seems to have struck up a kind of friendship with Wash, as he later served as a signatory on her required "Free Negro Bond," now in possession of the Missouri Historical Society (Dexter Tiffany Papers).
(11.) The depositions are included in the case file for Wash v. Magehan. At one point in the midst of cross-examination, one of Wash's witnesses, Naomi Wood, actually snapped at Magehan's attorney. She and her daughter (also deposed) regularly referred kindly to Polly Wash.
(12.) Coxe was the son of Tench Coxe, who parlayed local popularity into a term in the Second Continental Congress and an appointment as Alexander Hamilton's Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. By his death in 1824, though sometimes cash-poor, he had amassed well over a million acres of land in eight states. Younger son Henry Sidney Coxe moved west to St. Louis and secured positions with the St. Louis Branch of the Bank of the United States and the Mutual Insurance Company. Mary Berry Coxe was highly placed socially and was beginning to reap the rewards of her father's Missouri lands; Coxe estimated her worth in 1845 at about $40,000. Delaney notes that, after their honeymoon, Mary Coxe "commenced housekeeping on a grand and extended scale" and, "having a large acquaintance, she entertained lavishly" (19). A professionally-printed invitation dated September 28, 1838, survives in the Mullanphy Papers, Missouri Historical Society; it reads: "Mr. & Mrs. H. S. Coxe request the pleasure of your company on Wednesday evening next, the 3d prox, at 7 o'clock." On the Coxe family, see West; Cooke; Du Bin. On Henry S. Coxe, see especially Stevens 1: 681-82; St. Louis Directory-1842, 29; the 1848 City Directory of St. Louis, 62; and West, Guide to the Microfilm of the Papers of Tench Coxe--as well as, more generally, St. Louis city directories for 1836-1850 and the Journal for 1836-1849 of the Agency Bank of the United States of St. Louis (kept by Coxe), Missouri Historical Society. The divorce action is MaryAnn Coxe v. Henry S. Coxe.
(13.) Petition of Mary Ann Coxe, Mary Ann Coxe v. Henry S. Coxe.
(14.) MaryAnn Coxe v. Henry S. Coxe. The Coxes' acrimony toward each other lasted until Henry Coxe's death in 1850. That January, the dying Coxe sold a//of his land to his siblings for a mere five dollars in a sale consciously designed to cut Mary Coxe almost completely out of his estate; see Deed for Sale by Henry S. Coxe to Francis S. Coxe, Charles S. Coxe, Edmund S. Coxe, and Mary R. Coxe, 16 Jan. 1850, St. Louis Deeds, Vol. I-5, 382-83. Circumstantial evidence suggests that both parties came by their claims in the divorce suit truthfully: the inventory of Henry Coxe's estate--supposedly, after 1843, that of a non-violent teetotaler-included a pocket flask, two corkscrews, nine bottles of "asthma syrup," and three small pistols, and when Mary Coxe was getting ready to marry again, to William A. Pendleton on February 7, 1853, she had prominent attorney Hamilton R. Gamble draw up a six-page prenuptial agreement (again rare for the time) that carefully spelled out the property to which she had rights. There is limited circumstantial evidence that this second marriage also had difficulty. On Coxe's estate, see Probate File of the Estate of Henry S. Coxe. For Mary Coxe's subsequent marriage to William Pendleton, see St. Louis Marriages, D-6: 72. The prenuptial agreement is in the Hamilton R. Gamble Papers, Missouri Historical Society. While the 1860 Federal Census (Washington, DC, Ward 2, 89-90) lists the Pendletons in the normal family order, the 1870 Census (Baltimore, Maryland, Ward 12, 578) lists Mary as the head and only names William after listing all other family members, two servants, and a seamstress who appears to have boarded with the family.
(15.) For biographical information on David D. Mitchell, see Mattison; Drumm, "David Dawson Mitchell"; 1850 Federal Census of Missouri, City of St. Louis, Ward 3, 413; Probate File for the Estate of David D. Mitchell. Martha Mitchell is mentioned only briefly in sources on her husband. See also Probate File for the Estate of Martha Eliza Mitchell. On her uneven mental state, see Martha Mitchell to David D. Mitchell, 29 Jan. 1847.
(16.) In addition to Hunter and Schwartz, this discussion of laundry also relies on Cohen and on Strasser.
(17.) See "List of Free Negroes."
(18.) We can only speculate on the shift in Delaney's name. "Britton" might offer a clue to her father's name--which she never gives in the narrative and which no other record shows. Or it might speak to some connection from her time with the Coxe family: Henry Sidney Coxe had relatives with the surname "Brinton," and occasionally the handwritten version of this name looks like "Britton." Delaney or her mother might have said "Berry" and simply been misheard. The staff of the Circuit Court Historical Records Project conducted an extensive search for the initial Delaney freedom suit case file after the author discovered that the small Delaney case file posted online (as part of the Freedom Suit collection) is not actually her freedom suit, but a second suit brought for damages.
(19.) See CCRB 13: 391-92, 13: 399, 14: 51-52, 14: 366, 14: 368, as well as Mitchell's later motion to re-tax costs in CCRB 15: 76, on Delaney's time in jail. Polly Wash's case file contains a receipt showing her collection of the wages she earned while hired out during the pendancy of her freedom suit. Had Lucy Delaney been hired out--and so earned wages--she would have been similarly entitled to them when she won her suit. I have yet to find any similar receipt for Delaney; if such does not exist, it would strengthen the narrative's claim that she spent the full 17 months in jail.
(20.) The quoted material is drawn from the Report of the Committee of the Grand Jury. The jail expansion was not motivated by desire to offer more comfort to prisoners. In July of 1840, nine prisoners had escaped with the aid of a friend who picked the lock on one door and then helped them saw through the iron grate on another; less than two years before, five prisoners had escaped by cutting a hole in the ceiling of their cell. See Wright 14; Moore, "A Ray of Hope," 5-8; and Hyde and Conard, eds., 1: 1117-19.
(21.) According to CCRB 14: 67, the jurors were Reuben B. Austin, Gibson Corthion, William Bailey, Henry G. Soulard, Ally Williams, William Wiseman, Thomas Wiseman, Robert G. Coleman, Thomas Sappington, Green Park, Enoch Price, and Ralph Peters, Jr. I have found most of these men in contemporary city directories and/or censuses. Austin actually worked for a sawmill, and Bailey was a lumber merchant, so it is plausible that they knew Magehan.
(22.) On this matter, see "History of Freedom Suits in Missouri"; Foley; see also Moore, "A Ray." I also thank Michael Everman and Kristin Zapalac for their insight on these issues.
(23.) I have thoroughly searched the extant "Executions Books" of the Circuit Court, where such payment would be recorded. Wash's case file and the Circuit Court Record Books are similarly silent.
(24.) I have examined extant St. Louis newspapers for six weeks surrounding the hearing date but found no mention of Delaney's case. (A search for coverage of Polly Wash's trial similarly found no mention in newspapers.) Persons at the courthouse on February 7, 1844, were more likely interested in a criminal case that was to be heard then. As reported in lurid detail in the untitled death notice for Fanny Berry, Captain A. F. Garrison, a trader and landowner, and George Presbury, a broker, had renewed an old enmity: after a verbal exchange, Garrison had begun to cane Presbury, leading Presbury to draw a pistol and shoot Garrison.
(25.) Murdoch filed close to one-third of the 1840-1847 freedom suits found to date. Unlike many of his colleagues, he always represented enslaved plaintiffs. Near the end of his time in St. Louis, he filed the initial papers for the freedom suits of Dred and Harriet Scott, thus beginning one of the most important court processes in African American history.
(26.) Most of the biographical material here can be found in Cain. Cain's book, however, needs to be read with caution, especially where Bates and African Americans are concerned. Representing Bates as a careful reformer (eminently suited for connection to Abraham Lincoln), Cain notes, for example, that, by 1833,
Even the antislavery crusade claimed him as an active, if cautious participant. Since the early 1820's he had been a member of the American Colonization Society. More recently, he had joined a gradual emancipationist group in St. Louis, where he frequently held long discussions on the slavery question with Elijah Lovejoy, the noted abolitionist.... Though he never evidenced great enthusiasm for the antislavery cause, Bates was torn between humanitarianism and Western indifference to the moral aspects of the Negro's plight. He also considered the constitutional and economic factors involved in slavery to be very important. But the popular feeling in Missouri ... lacked fervor toward the abolition of slavery. (46)
Cain elides not only the fact that most of Bates's friends and prominent clients (especially the Chouteaus) held slaves, but also the fact that Bates did. The 1840 Federal Census of Missouri, St. Charles County, Dardienne Township, 38, lists Bates as holding nine slaves. While some were, indeed, eventually emancipated, Bates was certainly not a member of "the antislavery crusade." Rather, like various "enlightened" slaveholders, he agreed with David Mitchell that "slavery was a curse," and saw the complex, racist procedures of colonization as a single, limited solution beyond masters' "humanitarianism." Further, even Cain acknowledges that "on the major political issues of the day Bates aligned himself with [Henry] Clay" (47). Of course, while indisputably tied to the colonization movement, Clay was far from antislavery. Delaney's narrative positively portrays Bates, simply asserting that, "after fully considering the proofs and learning that my mother was a poor woman, he [Bates] consented to undertake the case and make his charges only sufficient to cover his expenses" (36). Conversations with Michael Everman and Kdstin Zapalac, as well as my own reading of most of the extant suits and supporting materials, serve as the basis for my reasoning on Bates's motivation.
(27.) As Moore has pointed out, three years later, Lacy told the Court that if a slave named Eliza, who was incarcerated with her infant daughter, was not found other accommodations, it might well be "fatal to one or both of them" (6).
(28.) On the Lacy family, see the 1850 Federal Census of Missouri, City of St. Louis, Ward 3, 336 (listing for Lewis F. Lacy); the census records Lacy's job as "Clerk, County Court." See also Lacy descendant to the author, October 2004. Except for Charles Christian Lacy, the other Lacy siblings had dispersed or would soon disperse over Missouri. Benjamin Lacy was born in 1802 and died in 1860. Lewis Fernandez Lacy, born in 1817, was Benjamin Lacy's youngest brother. Minerva Ann (Doyle) Lacy, Lewis Lacy's wife, was born in 1819 and died in 1876.
(29.) The jurors listed for the case in CCRB 14:368 are Simpson Harris, John Hyatt, Isaac Lockwood, Henry F. McCIosky, Henry Phillips, Abram Allen, Joseph H. Conn, M. Kline, Elihu H. Shepard, Charles Collins, John Lux, and Ringrose D. Watson. I have found most of them in contemporary city directories, censuses, and/or newspapers. At least one, Watson, was actually the defendant in a freedom suit.
(30.) On Mullanphy, see Northcott 563-64; Dolan 16-18 and 28; Hyde and Conard 3: 1585-94; and Cornwell. Bryan Mullanphy had been born in Baltimore in 1809 and educated abroad--though his father spent about half of his time in St. Louis watching over an ever-increasing empire (in real estate as well as commerce). The family eventually settled in St. Louis, and after young Bryan returned, he in time became an attorney. In 1835, two years after his father's death, he became a city alderman and was named a Judge on the St. Louis Circuit Court in 1840. In 1847, he served a one-year term as Mayor of St. Louis, and probably would have achieved more prominence but for his untimely death in 1851. Still, during his lifetime, his charitable endeavors and personal life--including his refusal to evict a number of "shanty Irish" on his land--were marked as eccentric by most St. Leuisans; a resolution passed by the city bar at his death reads, in part, "All his oddities are but as dust in the balance when weighed against the uprightness of his life" (Cornwell rip).
(31.) In a broader sense, this concept is the bedrock of freedom suit law: such law served as a pressure valve, a legal structure for the rare and exceptional that serves to normalize the larger slave system.
(32.) Material in the Dexter Tiffany Papers at the Missouri Historical Society suggests that there were periodic "sweeps" against free Blacks that resulted in several arrests, fines as high as $25, jail time, and removal from the city limits for the crime of being unlicensed.
(33.) The Court, perhaps simply to get rid of the matter or perhaps to appease Mitchell (who had some powerful connections), found in favor of his motion to refigure his costs a few months later and struck $78 in jailer's fees from his bill; see CCRB 15: 126.
(34.) This case is Lucy Ann Britton, by her next friend Polly Wash v. David D. Mitchell.
(35.) The three-eighths figure is Moore's, assessed before several more cases were found after 2000; still, it remains fairly accurate. Victories in the suits are sometimes difficult to trace, as some suits were filed more than once, some masters seem to have negotiated deals to avoid court--occasionally even including selective emancipation, and so on. I have found only a handful of records suggesting monetary damages were awarded.
(36.) The quoted material in this paragraph is taken from various documents in the second Britton v. Mitchell case file.
(37.) Given Mitchell's push to retax the court fees associated with the initial case, one would think he would have pressed Delaney. That he did not is one more piece of circumstantial evidence that he gave up.
(38.) See my "'Face to Face': Localizing Lucy Delaney's From the Darkness Cometh the Light" for further exploration of these issues.
(39.) Indeed, Nancy chooses to live in Canada even after the Civil War. Delaney's narrative recounts how she found her father as a result of the Exodus of 1879, but also marks the reunion as bittersweet: her father visits St. Louis, finds it too foreign, and ultimately returns to Mississippi. From the Darkness clearly and cogently argues not only that slavery wounded families, but also that such wounds did not heal. See Delaney 60-61.
Eric Gardner chairs the English Department at Saginaw Valley State University. His edited volumes include the anthology of early American plays, Major Voices: The Drama of Slavery (Toby 2005) and the recovered columns of Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West, forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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