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Enslaved Women and Freedom Suits: Race, Agency, and Gender in the Revolutionary Era

Exploring Early America Through Digitial History

About the Site

About the Research

This site is the culmination of a capstone course in the History and Sociology bachelors program at Georgia Tech and incorporates many of the tools and skills acquired during the course. The purpose of this project is to explore the race, gender, and power dynamics during the Revolutionary Era in an accessible and captivating digital format. The site allows visitors to interact in a more intimate way than a traditional academic paper, creating a nonlinear experience that facilitates viewer autonomy in navigating the content of the site.

Beyond advancing the digital history medium, this site also seeks to contribute to the academic literature on enslaved women in Early American history by examining the intersections of race, gender, and power in Revolutionary Era freedom suits. The essential argument made through the following digital narrative is that the changing political landscape during the Post-Revolutionary War and Antebellum eras briefly presented an opportunity for enslaved and formerly enslaved women to exercise agency by appealing for freedom through legal channels.

Navigation Bar

Instructions for Navigating the Site

Use the Navigation Bar at the top of the page or click on each of the images from the digital narrative outlined below to get more information about enslaved women and freedom suits during the Revolutionary Era.

What are Freedom Suits?

What Are Freedom Suits?
Judge George Wythe who adjudicated Hudgins v. Wright

Freedom suits illustrate intersections of race, class, gender, and power through interactions in the Revolutionary Era judicial system.

The Suits

Brom and Bett v. Ashley

Freedom suit plaintiff Mum Bett

Hudgins v. Wright

Drawing of Native American Woman

Marguerite v. Pierre Choteau

Defendant Jean-Pierre Choteau, a wealthy fur trader from Lousiana and prominent citizen of St. Louis

Enslaved women went to extraordinary measures to secure their freedom. The story of Mum Bett’s freedom suit provides a fascinating example of how the rhetoric of liberty applied during the Revolutionary Era empowered enslaved women.

Women who brought freedom suits included African Americans, Native Americans, and Whites in both free and slave states. Hudgins v. Wright elucidates race, power, and gender dynamics in Virginia at a pivotal point in the state’s history.

As the United States expanded its territories, legal issues around slavery proliferated and created opportunities for enslaved women to challenge their bondage. Marguerite v Choteau was a complex lengthy cased that addressed the legitimacy of Native American enslavement and the continuity of enslavement in territories previously controlled by France.


Court document from the William and Mary Digital Archive

View the primary source documents as well as other sources from this website.

Link to Capstone Team Splash Page