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Redemption SongsSuing for Freedom before Dred Scott$
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Lea VanderVelde

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199927296

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199927296.001.0001

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Peter’s Dual Redemption

Peter’s Dual Redemption

(p.23) Chapter 2 Peter’s Dual Redemption
Redemption Songs

Lea VanderVelde

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents the story of Peter and Queen McNelly. Peter was the first slave to sue for his and his wife’s freedom under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The account of Peter and Queen, which took place in 1794, resonates with the themes of brutality, deceit, subjugation, greed, enforced subordination, family separation, racism, sexual predation, and injustice. Although brought in free territory, rather than in a slave state, Peter’s case reveals how hard it was for an enslaved person to find justice on the frontier simply because it was difficult to locate a court of law. It also shows how easy a group could be gathered to thwart a claim for freedom and how far such measures could be taken when unchecked by legal authority.

Keywords:   Peter McNelly, Queen McNelly, Northwest Ordinance of 1787, freedom suits, slaves

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