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Suing for Freedom: Slavery and the Law in Early America

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During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, enslaved people challenged their status in court. They devised legal strategies, studied law, and worked with lawyers to gain freedom in jurisdictions throughout the colonial era and early national republic. This presentation by Dr. Honor Sachs follows the story of one extended slave family in Virginia who initiated dozens of freedom suits over multiple generations between the American Revolution and the 1820s, claiming freedom by reason of Native American descent. Although this family worked with some of the nation’s most famous lawyers – including Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall – their story has remained largely unknown. This talk reveals hidden stories about slavery, law, and family in early America. Honor Sachs is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the author of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (2015.) Her teaching covers early America broadly, with particular focus on the revolutionary and founding eras, histories of race and slavery, legal and constitutional history, and histories of family, genealogy, and memory. Location and Pricing: Golden History Museum, 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

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