Award Date

8-1-2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Committee Member

David Tanenhaus

Second Committee Member

William Bauer

Third Committee Member

Michelle Tusan

Fourth Committee Member

David Beisecker

Number of Pages

98

Abstract

This thesis explores the issues surrounding testamentary manumission, the ability of

masters to manumit slaves via their will in Virginia during the first half of the nineteenth

century. Using 37 cases in which the will was challenged and appealed up to the Supreme

Court of Virginia, I argue that in addition to the complexities of adjudicating a contested

will, the arguments and opinions offered by lawyers and judges in these cases show the

evolving discourse surrounding in slavery in Virginia during this period.

After developing a consistent and coherent body of law to regulate the manumission

of slaves in the early nineteenth century, the justices of the Virginia Supreme Court suddenly

made a sharp change in the way they decided manumission cases. Because of the increasing

fervor of the national discourse surrounding slavery and particularly the expansion of slavery

to new territories, the Court abandoned its relatively neutral position on the issue of

manumission and instead interpreted the legal right to manumit as a threat to the established

order of Virginia’s slave society.

Keywords

American Slavery; Legal History; Manumission; Slave Law; Virginia; Wills

Disciplines

History | United States History

Language

English


Share

COinS