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Book cover of Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

by Edlie Wong

Publisher: New York University Press
Pages: 368
Paperback
ISBN: 9780814794562






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Overview of Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Neither Fugitive nor Free draws on a largely unexplored archive, the freedom suit, to offer a more historically embedded understanding of the concept of freedom. While recuperating the freedom suit-legal petitions for freedom initiated by slaves (and abolitionists on their behalf) whom traveling slaveholders brought into free jurisdictions-it charts a circum-Atlantic course through London, Kingston, Boston, St. Louis, and Charleston. Reconstructed from pamphlets, newspapers, slave narratives, novels, and casebooks, these legal stories comprise a loose genre of antislavery literature, documenting the struggles of jurists, abolitionists, slaves, free blacks, and slaveholders as they negotiated the predicament of a territorially bounded freedom.

This study places such historically central antislavery figures as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Granville Sharpe, and Sojourner Truth alongside such lesser-known slave plaintiffs as Lucy Ann Delaney and Harriet Robinson Scott. Each chapter investigates a landmark case or ordinance as its central source material: Somerset v. Stewart (1772), Commonwealth v. Aves (1836), Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), and the South Carolina Negro Seamen Act (1822). Situated at the nexus of literary criticism, feminism, and legal history, Neither Fugitive nor Free presents the freedom suit as a critical new genre for African American and American literary studies.

In the America And The Long 19th Century Series

Synopsis of Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Neither Fugitive nor Free draws on the freedom suit as recorded in the press and court documents to offer a critically and historically engaged understanding of the freedom celebrated in the literary and cultural histories of transatlantic abolitionism. Freedom suits involved those enslaved valets, nurses, and maids who accompanied slaveholders onto free soil. Once brought into a free jurisdiction, these attendants became informally free, even if they were taken back to a slave jurisdiction—at least according to abolitionists and the enslaved themselves. In order to secure their freedom formally, slave attendants or others on their behalf had to bring suit in a court of law.

Edlie Wong critically recuperates these cases in an effort to reexamine and redefine the legal construction of freedom, will, and consent. This study places such historically central anti-slavery figures as Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, and William Lloyd Garrison alongside such lesser-known slave plaintiffs as Lucy Ann Delaney, Grace, Catharine Linda, Med, and Harriet Robinson Scott. Situated at the confluence of literary criticism, feminism, and legal history, Neither Fugitive nor Free presents the freedom suit as a "new" genre to African American and American literary studies.

About the Author, Edlie Wong

Edlie L. Wong is an Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick where she teaches nineteenth-century African American and American literature.

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