Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from


Neither Fugitive nor Free draws on a largely unexplored archive, the freedom suit, to offer a more historically embedded understanding of the concept of freedom. While recuperating the freedom suit-legal petitions for freedom initiated by slaves (and abolitionists on their behalf) whom traveling slaveholders brought into free jurisdictions-it charts a circum-Atlantic course through London, Kingston, Boston, St. Louis, and Charleston. Reconstructed from pamphlets, newspapers, slave narratives, novels, and casebooks, these legal stories comprise a loose genre of antislavery literature, documenting the struggles of jurists, abolitionists, slaves, free blacks, and slaveholders as they negotiated the predicament of a territorially bounded freedom.

This study places such historically central antislavery figures as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Granville Sharpe, and Sojourner Truth alongside such lesser-known slave plaintiffs as Lucy Ann Delaney and Harriet Robinson Scott. Each chapter investigates a landmark case or ordinance as its central source material: Somerset v. Stewart (1772), Commonwealth v. Aves (1836), Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), and the South Carolina Negro Seamen Act (1822). Situated at the nexus of literary criticism, feminism, and legal history, Neither Fugitive nor Free presents the freedom suit as a critical new genre for African American and American literary studies.

In the America And The Long 19th Century Series

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Expands the contours of African American writing and identity through meticulous reconstruction of eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century freedom suits."

-American Quarterly

“An original, powerful interdisciplinary approach to the political and legal struggles against slavery in the antebellum period. Wong’s transatlantic focus on the travel of enslaved persons, as fugitives or nominally free, goes far beyond well known slave narratives and gets to the heart of the contradictions of slavery in a liberal republic.”
-Amy Kaplan,author of The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture

“In addition to providing a strong sense of the focal cases, Wong evinces a rare willingness to consider the ways these cases were reappropriated in larger antebellum legal processes and print culture. Wong’s wonderfully relentless interdisciplinarity pushes her repeatedly to analyze not simply events, but the language and rhetoric surrounding them. Her command of published sources is impressive: she deftly weaves together scholarship on law, legal history, literary criticism, political history, social history, gender theory, and ethnic studies, and she rightly insists that her subjects cannot be fully understood without recovering a richer range of voices and texts. Perhaps most importantly, Wong’s book joins calls to reconsider generic definitions of slave narratives and race literature and so begins to embody the potential for broader senses of black texts and black history.”-Journal of American History

"Neither Fugitive nor Free's interdiciplinary and transatlantic approach usefully draws from literary criticism, critical race theory, legal history, and gender studies to provide sophisticated and revealing insights into Anglo-American understandings of and narratives about freedom and slavery."-Brian Schoen,Common-Place

"A hidden face of abolitionism is revealed in Edlie L. Wong's, Fugitive nor Free, which examines freedom suits brought by black people or for them, mostly as a result of a visit to a free zone in which law was silent on slavery or in which law barred slavery."-Early American Literature

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Edlie L. Wong is an Associate Professor at the
University of Maryland and author of Neither Fugitive Nor Free: Atlantic
Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel
(NYU Press, 2009)
and co-editor of George Lippard’s The Killers.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Introduction: Traveling Slaves and the Geopolitics of Freedom 1

1 Emancipation after "the Laws of Englishmen" 19

2 Choosing Kin in Antislavery Literature and Law 77

3 The Gender of Freedom before Dred Scott 127

4 The Crime of Color in the Negro Seamen Acts 183

Conclusion: Fictions of Free Travel 240

Notes 263

Index 325

About the Author 339

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)