A Question of Freedom The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War William G. Thomas

Format:
Hardback
Publication date:
09 Feb 2021
ISBN:
9780300234121
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
432 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
28 b-w illus.
Sales territories:
World

The story of the longest and most complex legal challenge to slavery in American history

For over seventy years and five generations, the enslaved families of Prince George’s County, Maryland, filed hundreds of suits for their freedom against a powerful circle of slaveholders, taking their cause all the way to the Supreme Court. Between 1787 and 1861, these lawsuits challenged the legitimacy of slavery in American law and put slavery on trial in the nation’s capital.
 
Piecing together evidence once dismissed in court and buried in the archives, Thomas tells an intricate and intensely human story of the enslaved families (the Butlers, Queens, Mahoneys, and others), their lawyers (among them a young Francis Scott Key), and the slaveholders who fought to defend slavery, beginning with the Jesuit priests who held some of the largest plantations in the nation and founded a college at Georgetown. A Question of Freedom asks us to reckon with the moral problem of slavery and its legacies in the present day.

William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska. He was co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.