List of court cases in the United States involving slavery

The following is a list of court cases in the United States concerning slavery.

1779Brakkee v. LovellVermont Superior CourtPompey Brakkee had been held as a slave by Elijah Lovell after slavery was made illegal in Vermont. Lovell failed to appear and Brakkee was awarded 400 pounds sterling.[1]
1781Brom and Bett v. AshleyBerkshire County Court of Common PleasSlaves Brom and Bett (Elizabeth Freeman) were freed on the basis that the Massachusetts constitution provided that "all men are born free and equal." This case was a precedent for the following one.
1781Quock Walker v. JennisonWorcester County Court of Common PleasJennison's slave, Quock Walker, was found to be a freedman on the basis that slavery was contrary to the Bible and the Massachusetts Constitution.
1783Commonwealth v. JennisonMassachusetts Supreme Judicial CourtJustice William Cushing instructs jury that "slavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence."[2]
1792Guardian of Sally v. BeattySupreme Court of South CarolinaA slave owned by Beatty had bought a slave girl Sally and manumitted her. Chief Justice John Rutledge instructed the jury that such an act of generosity on Sally's behalf should not be overturned.
1806Hudgins v. WrightVirginia Supreme CourtJackey Wright and her two children were freed based on her claim of maternal descent from Native American women. Indian slavery had been prohibited in Virginia since 1705.
1818Harry v. Decker & HopkinsSupreme Court of MississippiDecker's slave Harry was freed, and slaves residing in the Northwest Territory become free as per the Ordinance of 1787, and may assert their rights in court.
1820Polly v. LasselleSupreme Court of IndianaIndiana gave freedom to blacks in the state who had been held as slaves in the territory prior to Indiana's state constitutional ban on slavery.
1830North Carolina v. MannSupreme Court of North CarolinaSlaveowners were ruled to have absolute authority over their slaves and could not be found guilty of committing violence against them.
1834Rachel v. WalkerSupreme Court of MissouriA freedom suit of Rachel, a slave who sued for freedom from John Walker in the Supreme Court of Missouri, and won based on his having held her in the free state of Illinois.
1834North Carolina v. Negro WillSupreme Court of North CarolinaJudge William Gaston held that slaves who killed their owner or overseer in self-defense could not be found guilty of murder, but at most manslaughter (cf. North Carolina v. Mann (1830) above)[3][4]
1836Commonwealth v. AvesMassachusetts Supreme Judicial CourtA slave named Med was freed on the grounds that any slave brought to a free state by his or her owner was thereby set free.
1838Hinds v. BrazealleSupreme Court of MississippiDenied a deed of manumission in Ohio for a citizen of Mississippi's mixed-race son and his slave mother, because it was against Mississippi statutes (which required an act by the state legislature), and was considered fraud
1838North Carolina v. ManuelSupreme Court of North CarolinaJudge William Gaston held that free blacks, including former slaves, were citizens of North Carolina and could not be denied any rights guaranteed under the state constitution, including that of declaring insolvency to avoid imprisonment or forced labor for debt.[5] (The decision was cited in Justice Benjamin Curtis's dissent in Dred Scott, below.)[4]
1841United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner AmistadSupreme Court of the United StatesAs the Africans in question were never legal property, they were not criminals and had rightfully defended themselves in mutiny. They were unlawfully kidnapped, and the Court directed the President to transport them in return to Africa.
1842Prigg v. PennsylvaniaSupreme Court of the United StatesOverturned the conviction of slavecatcher Edward Prigg in Pennsylvania based on the ruling that Federal law (which provides for recovery of fugitive slaves) supersedes State law.
1851Strader v. GrahamSupreme Court of the United StatesThe status of three slaves who traveled from Kentucky to the free states of Indiana and Ohio depended on Kentucky slave law rather than Ohio law, which had abolished slavery.
1852Lemmon v. New YorkSuperior Court of the City of New YorkGranted freedom to slaves who were brought into New York by their Virginia slave owners, while in transit to Texas.
1853Holmes v. FordOregon Territorial Supreme CourtGranted freedom to a family of slaves who had been brought to Oregon with their master from Missouri, as this action violated the Organic Laws of Oregon, which did not allow slavery.
1857Dred Scott v. SandfordSupreme Court of the United StatesPeople of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants  whether or not they were slaves  were not included under the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States.
1859Ableman v. BoothSupreme Court of the United StatesHeld that state courts cannot issue rulings that contradict the decisions of federal courts, in this case overturning the unconstitutionality ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
2021Nestlé USA, Inc. v. DoeSupreme Court of the United StatesHeld that respondents improperly sought extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute, as the petitioner's domestic conduct  investing in and doing business with plantations which employ child slave labor  constituted general corporate activity, and conduct which directly caused injury occurred outside of the United States.

See also


  1. Mello, Robert A. (2014). Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont. Vermont Historical Society. ISBN 978-0934720656.
  2. "The Quock Walker Case". Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ( Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  3. Brinkley, Martin H. "State v. Negro Will". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina. Retrieved 2021-06-09.
  4. Martin, Jonathan. "State v. Negro Will (1834) and State v. Manuel (1838)". North Carolina History Project. John Locke Foundation. Retrieved 2021-06-09.
  5. Stoesen, Alexander R. "State v. Manuel". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina. Retrieved 2021-06-09.
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