College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Luci Vaden


freedom suit, Native American women, African American women, hearsay, kinship, Indian slavery, African slavery, Indian traders, beloved women, justice, matrilineal tribes, clans, self-determination, agency, kidnapping enslaved people, kidnapping free people of color, depositions, indigenous, court days, deposition days, agency, self-emancipation, Mima Queen v. Hepburn, Rachel Findley v. John Draper, Rachel v. Thomas Clay, Hannah Findley v. John Marr, Phebe, an Indian v. Jos. Fitzpatrick, George Cook v. John Walker, Annis v. Caleb Bradford, Major v. Anna Maria Andrews, Ibby Harman v. William S. Roberts, Lydia v. John Mears, Dick v. Christopher Terrell, Maria v. Mary Evans Moore, Bridget v. John Tucker, Phebe Butcher and sons v. Abram Vaughan, Vaughan v. Phebe, Wilson Kinney v. Richard Chapman Johnson, Thornton Kinney of Colour plaintiff vs. John F. Hatcher & Charles C. Bridges, John Marshall, Captain Joseph Crockett, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Abraham Lincoln, George Keith Taylor, Granville Henderson, Edmund Scarburgh, Colony of Liberia, slave mortgages, steam ships, slave market, Reconstruction, New Orleans, Louisiana, vagrancy, contrabands, Nathaniel Prentice Banks, Benjamin F. Butler, Thomas W. Conway, contract labor


History | Law


Freedom suits of enslaved people in Virginia who claimed liberty based upon matrilineal descent from a Native American woman provide a multi-dimensional lens into social, cultural, and legal aspects of colonial and antebellum considerations of race, kinship, and self-determination. Within records of depositions are detailed transcriptions of questions posed to neighbors, family members, acquaintances of enslavers, and slaveowners themselves. Answers reveal a nuanced and complicated set of opinions concerning who had a right to freedom. Local memory banks overflowed with detailed descriptions of the plaintiff and his or her native ancestress, including skin color, hair texture, and manners. Within isolated regions, such as Accomack County on the Eastern Shore, goliaths emerged within the local planter community, led by men who chose to enslave Native Americans contrary to the laws of Virginia. The native ancestress left a legacy of nurturing of kin and seeking justice. The enslaved person who challenged slaveowners had to be intrepid, fearless, resourceful. Some cases detail the plight and persistence of plaintiffs who, though they won their suit for freedom, were kept in bondage and had to fight their way through the courts for a second time. For some successful plaintiffs, their free-born children and grandchildren were not guaranteed a free life, but found themselves battling enslavers who viewed their skin color as an opportunity for personal gain. These cases reveal the voice and message of people of color, of both Native and African American descent, whose quest for justice forged a path for others to follow.