Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846-1862

Becoming Free, Remaining Free

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  • Louisiana state law was unique in allowing slaves to contract for their freedom and to initiate a lawsuit for liberty. Judith Kelleher Schafer describes the ingenious and remarkably sophisticated ways New Orleans slaves used the legal system to gain their independence and find a voice in a society that ordinarily gave them none. Showing that remaining free was often as challenging as becoming free, Schafer also recounts numerous cases in which free people of color were forced to use the courts to prove their status. She further documents seventeen free blacks who, when faced with deportation, amazingly sued to enslave themselves. Schafer's impressive detective work achieves a rare feat in the historical profession--the unveiling of an entirely new facet of the slave experience in the American South.