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

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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

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

“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

"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,

“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,

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

-American Quarterly

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Edlie L. Wong is Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick where she teaches nineteenth-century African American and American literature.

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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

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