American Legal History

I attached a link to the first draft of my wikipedia project. I'm having trouble figuring out how to get footnotes to show up. Also its's quite long at the moment, and I am considering breaking it up into two separate topics, Quaker Trusteeship and Manumission in North Carolina. Any other suggestions are much appreciated.

-- AjaySaini - 12 Dec 2011

I published the article on Wikipedia: (See

I plan on attaching the Dickinson case to this page. In addition, here are a few of the other sources I used for my project:

Laws of the State of North Carolina (1715-1796): (p. 270 provides the text of the 1777 law, p. 376 provides the 1779 law, and p. 587 provides a law passed in 1788)

Laws of the State of North Carolina (After 1796): (p. 3 provides the text of the 1796 law; p. 14 provides the law legalizing religious trusts, p. 824 provides a great index of the different laws governing the practice of slavery)

Southern Quakers and Slavery: (p. 225 provides Gaston's interpretation of the 1796 law legalizing religious trusts)

Below, I am adding some material exploring the the conflicts that arose between the North Carolina Assembly and the Quakers in North Carolina over laws restricting manumission, and the decline in Quaker efforts towards avoiding those laws.

Manumission in North Carolina

The North Carolina General Assembly began restricting the ability of slave owners to set their slaves free in 1723. That year, the Assembly prohibited a slave owner from freeing his or her slave, unless a county court determined that the slave had rendered "meritorious services." (Weeks p. 209). In addition, the law required all freedmen leave the state within six months of manumission. Anyone not freed in this manner, or overstaying the six month deadline, was subject to arrest and re-enslavement. (Franklin p. 20) The Assembly re-established these restrictions in 1741, and the policy remained in effect through the 1770s. (Weeks p.209).

A 1776 dispute regarding the re-enslavement of individuals freed by Quakers ignited tension over these restrictions. At the 1776 Yearly Meeting the Quakers appointed a committee to aid in the emancipation of slaves held by Quakers. These efforts resulted in the emancipation of many slaves. (Bassett p. 65) One year later the General Assembly re-enacted the restrictions of the earlier manumission statutes. As a result, forty men and women, previously freed by the Quakers were arrested for being improperly manumitted, and sold back into slavery. (Id.) The Quakers looked to the courts in an effort to protect the re-enslaved individuals, challenging the application of the 1777 law to those freed before the law's enactment. While achieving some success in the courts, the Quakers' efforts were eventually silenced by the General Assembly. (Weeks p. 210) In 1779, the Assembly adopted a law permitting re-enslavement for those persons illegally manumitted before 1777. (Id.)

The conflict between the Quakers and the General Assembly continued over the next two decades. In response to a 1787 Quaker petition to repeal the restrictive laws on emancipation, the Assembly re-affirmed its previous policy and voiced its displeasure with the Quakers. The Assembly explicitly condemned persons of "religious motives" who, in violation of the law, "liberate their slaves, who are now going at large to the terror of the people of this State." (Franklin p. 10) A few years later, the Quakers again petitioned for an adjustment in the state's manumission policy. In 1796 they sought recognition of their right to legally emancipate their slaves on conscientious grounds. (Weeks p.221) In defiance of this request, the General Assembly re-cemented its restrictive policy. The 1796 act stated "that no slave shall be set free in any case or under any pretense whatever, except for meritorious services, to be adjudged or and allowed by the County Court, and license first had and obtained therefor." (Weeks p. 222)

While these laws were restrictive of manumission, enforcement during the eighteenth century was lenient. Many slave owners in North Carolina simply ignored the state's restrictive laws in freeing their slaves. (Berlin p. 31) When the county courts did hear petitions for manumission, they generally freed slaves without requiring proof of "meritorious service". (Cover p.76) In addition, local opinion typically frowned upon attempts by sheriffs to enforce the laws. When sheriffs arrested an improperly freed slave in the face of this community pressure, the slave was often turned over to his or her former owner, who promptly freed the slave again. (Berlin p.32) This inability of government officials to effectively enforce the restrictive laws attests to the liberal attitude towards manumission common throughout many local Carolinian communities. (Berlin p.31).

The General Assembly's continued frustration with these practices lead it to take steps to strengthen its restrictions. As already noted, the Assembly reaffirmed its policies in 1741, 1777 and 1796. (Berlin p.31) In addition, the Assembly passed a statute in 1801 requiring owners seeking to free slaves to enter into a bond to ensure that the manumitted slave would not become a charge on the state. (Weeks p.224). Finally, in 1818, the Assembly stripped county courts of the power to determine "meritorious service" and vested that power in regionally based superior courts. (Cover p.75). This continual struggle between owners seeking to free their slaves and the General Assembly seeking to restrict manumission lead many, especially the Quakers, to adopt new methods for emancipation. Among the methods adopted was the use of trusts by the religious community to hold slaves until they could be freed.

This method arose among Quakers in the early nineteenth century. The Quakers achieved some success in freeing a number of slaves through the 1820s. In 1829, however, the Supreme Court of North Carolina restricted the ability of Quakers to use trusts as a means of virtually freeing slaves.

Declining Use

Even before the decision in Dickinson, however, the use of trusts by the Quaker religious establishment was falling into disuse. There were a number of reasons for this declining use. First, significant portions of the Quaker population migrated from North Carolina west to states like Ohio, thereby diminishing the political clout of the constituency. (Cover p.75) Second, the prevailing attitude towards slavery in the South generally and North Carolina specifically changed drastically in the half century preceding the Civil War. (Berlin p. 141) This resulted in increased government action to tighten efforts against emancipation.

Quaker Migration

In the first decades of the nineteenth century many of the most zealous anti-slavery advocates among the Quakers moved to form communities in Ohio. (Cover p.75). This migration not only diminished the number of Quakers residing in North Carolina, but removed much of the anti-slavery elements from the community. Those that remained often adopted indifference towards the goals of emancipation the Society once espoused. (Weeks p.244). As a result, Quakers were subject to both diminishing political significance and internal conflict.

The major political effect of this change in the community was the 1818 change in forum for manumission decisions. While the Quakers previously brought influence to bear on the county courts to approve petitions for manumission, they could not resist the Assembly when it vested power over manumission decisions in the regionally based Superior Courts. (Franklin p.23) These regionally based courts were largely impervious to the local pressure Quakers had previously brought to bear on county courts. As a result, courts finally enforced the "meritorious service" requirement. (Cover p.75)

The changing demographics of the Quaker population also lead to internal strife over a dispute involving the Back to Africa movement. (Berlin 144). By 1830 many North Carolina Quakers supported the movement to send freedmen and entrusted slaves to Liberia, leading to a major disagreement within the community. Quakers supporting the Back to Africa movement were increasingly apprehensive about the growing number of freedmen residing in their communities. (Franklin p. 200) Directly opposed to them were those continuing their efforts against the manumission policy of the state. (Berlin 144) This dispute, along with the political consequences of the changing Quaker population, was a major factor in the declining popularity of trusteeships.

Pro-slavery Sentiment

A second major reason for the diminished efforts was a shift in the general attitude of North Carolinians. Over the course of the nineteenth century the southern states grew more committed to slavery as an institution. (Berlin 141) The primary reason for this shift was the spread of cotton culture across the South. (Weeks p. 244) The demand for slaves increased with advent of the cotton gin, and, as a result, many across the state disregarded doubts they once harbored about the morality of slavery. (Berlin p. 141) The potential heirs of emancipators began regularly challenging the manumission of slaves by will, in order to ensure their rights in valuable property. (Id.) Emancipation was frowned upon, both by the state and by the populace. In this atmosphere, events like Nat Turner's rebellion served to further entrench proslavery opinions.

The government in North Carolina took advantage of these cultural changes to stifle the Quakers' actions. After the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia, North Carolina swiftly passed laws outlawing the education of slaves. (Weeks p. 231) This law effectively shut-down the schools Quakers set up to educate the slaves held in trust.


Bassett, John S. Slavery in the State of North Carolina. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore. (1899)

Berlin, Ira. Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South. Oxford University Press, London and New York. (1974)

Cover, Robert. Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process. Yale University Press, New Haven and New York. (1975)

Franklin, John H. The Free Negro in North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London. (1971)

Morris, Thomas. Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London. (1996)

Weeks, Stephen Beauregard. Southern Quakers and Slavery: A Study in Institutional History. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore. (1896).



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  Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
pdf Trustees_Against_Dickinson.pdf props, move 823.4 K 04 Apr 2012 - 23:01 AjaySaini Trustees Against Dickinson
r5 - 29 Aug 2012 - 20:26:54 - IanSullivan
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