James Ash v. William H. WilliamsUnited States. Circuit Court (District of Columbia) - Washington (D.C.)
United States. Supreme Court - Washington (D.C.)
Claim for Freedom MadeManumission
Verdict for Plaintiff March 1840
Appealed by Defendant May 14, 1840
Verdict for Plaintiff April 29, 1840
Judgment Affirmed January 1843
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Will of Maria Anne T. Greenfield (September 16, 1824)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Petition for Freedom (December 19, 1839)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Defendant's Bill of Exceptions (March 1, 1840)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Deposition of William Dorsett (March 8, 1840)
- William H. Williams v. James Ash. Writ of Error (March 14, 1840)
- William H. Williams v. James Ash. Summons of James Ash (March 14, 1840)
- William H. Williams v. James Ash. Bond (March 14, 1840)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Transcript Record (March 24, 1840)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Circuit Court Report (March, 1840)
- James Ash v. William H. Williams. Minute Book Entry (April 29, 1840)
- William H. Williams v. James Ash. Supreme Court Report (January, 1843)
- Ann Bell, Daniel Bell, & David Bell v. Gerard T. Greenfield
- Edward Chase v. Thomas Greenfield
- Patt, Hannah, & Patty v. Gerard T. Greenfield & Thomas Greenfield
- William Scott v. William H. Williams
Attorney for Plaintiff(s):
Attorney for Defendant(s):
- Ash, James
- Bell, Ann
- Bradley, Joseph H. (Joseph Habersham), 1802-1887
- Brent, William Leigh, 1784-1848
- Brent, William, 1774-1848
- Burns, Benjamin
- Chew, Philimon
- Clarke, Ann
- Clarke, William
- Cranch, William, 1769-1855
- Daniels, Joseph H.
- Dorsett, Amelia T.
- Dorsett, William
- Dyer, Edward
- Ferguson, John W.
- Ford, Joseph B.
- Forrest, Joseph
- Greenfield, Gerard T.
- Greenfield, Maria Anne T.
- Greenfield, Sabina T.
- Greenfield, Walter
- Grimes, John
- Hollyday, Clement
- Hunter, Alexander
- Jones, Walter, 1776-1861
- Lee, Alexander
- Marbury, John
- McPherson, Henry H.
- Morsell, James Sewall
- Orme, W. C.
- Orme, William C.
- Owens, Thomas
- Philips, George W.
- Philips, Samuel
- Phillips, George W.
- Phillips, Samuel
- Purdy, John
- Swaine, Ann
- Taney, Roger Brooke, 1777-1864
- Thruston, Buckner, 1763-1845
- Turner, A. W.
- Tyler, Trueman
- Waters, William N.
- Williams, James H.
- Williams, Thomas
- Williams, William H.
On December 19, 1839, James Ash filed a petition for freedom in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia stating that he was "entitled to his freedom" and that he had a petition for his freedom pending in the county court of Prince George's County, Maryland. Ash had been arrested by John Grimes in Washington, D.C., and held in the private jail of William H. Williams. At a trial in March 1840, the jury rendered a verdict for James Ash and ordered his immediate release from Williams' jail. Williams appealed the case on a writ of error to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ash's freedom derived from the will of Maria Anne T. Greenfield who bequeathed her property, including James Ash, to her nephew Gerard T. Greenfield with the proviso: "provided he shall not carry them out of the state of Maryland, or sell them to anyone; in either of which events I will and devise the said negroes to be free for life." Gerard Greenfield sold Ash to William H. Williams and at that moment, the terms of the will "took effect the moment he was sold." Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the majority opinion for the Court, affirming the judgment of the Circuit Court. "The bequest of freedom to a slave is a specific legacy," Taney argued, and the restriction imposed in the will "was not a restraint or alienation inconsistent with the right to the property."