Slavery and the Making of AmericaDramatic re-enactment of a slave in uniform
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Legal Rights & Gov't
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight You be the Judge Personal Narratives Original Docs
You be the Judge Legal Rights & Gov't
Examine the Cases
What legal rights did slaves have? Which laws did they cite in trying to establish their rights? How did judges interpret the law? Four cases provide insights about the relationship between slavery and the judiciary.

Colonel Charles F. Suttle v. Anthony Burns (1854) Missouri v. Celia (1855)
Photo of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law Photo of Missouri slave cabin

Colonel Suttle of Virginia claims that Anthony Burns is his slave, and that Burns owes him service and labor. Is Burns free or a slave?


The prosecution claims that Celia, a slave, was guilty of the murder of her master, Robert Newsom. Was it self-defense or rape?

Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison (1783) South Carolina v. Tom Russell (1822)
Photo of the Massachusetts Constitution Photo of the exterior of the Nathaniel Russel House.

The prosecution claims that Jennison is guilty of the assault and battery of Quack Walker, a free man. Does Walker belong to Jennison?


The prosecution claims that Russell is guilty of participating in an attempted slave insurrection. Was there a slave conspiracy?

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