Explore kinship and family networks of multigenerational black, white, and mixed families of early Washington, D.C. These networks have been created using information derived from the court records, as well as genealogical research. Cases reveal deep interconnections between the families of early Washington. Because of the importance of kinship and family in matters of freedom, the petition for freedom case files in particular often contain genealogical information for the black and white families involved in these suits. The families presented here are selected for full analysis and presentation because of their prominence in the court records.

African-American Families

Bell Family Network

The Bell family tried to use the courts to uphold their manumission. When the legal system failed them, they turned to the Underground Railroad and became involved in The Pearl Incident.

Butler Family Network

The Butler family sued for their freedom between 1763-1828 in several Maryland Counties, claiming descent from a free white woman named Eleanor Butler.

Davis Family Network

Several generations of the Davis family petitioned the Court for their freedom from various masters, arguing that as descendants of a free woman, they should be entitled to their liberty.

Dunbar-Graham Family Network

Several members of the Dunbar-Graham family petitioned for their freedom from descendants of Richard Brown on the grounds that they were to be emancipated when they reach 31 years of age.

Joice Family Network

Ann Joice and her descendants were enslaved by several influential Maryland families, including the Darnalls and Carrolls. Some of her descendants petitioned for freedom in the Maryland and D.C. courts.

Lee Family Network

Several members of the Lee family petitioned for their freedom in fear that their present master would not adhere to the deed of emancipation that freed their mother and stipulated they be manumitted upon reaching specific ages.

Queen Family Network

Many members of the Queen family petitioned courts in Maryland and D.C. for their freedom, based upon their descent from a free woman. They had varying degrees of success.

Shorter Family Network

Multiple generations of the Shorter family petitioned in Maryland and D.C. for their freedom, due to their being descended from a white woman.

Thomas Family Network

Many generations of the Thomas family petitioned in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. for their freedom, arguing that as descendants of a white woman, they should be entitled to their liberty.

White Families

Brown Family Network

Elizabeth Brown sold an enslaved family to her sister, Francis Alexander, with the condition that they be freed after a specific number of years. Several petitions for freedom were filed against Mrs. Alexander's heirs when this condition was not upheld.

Carroll Family Network

Members of Carroll family defended freedom suits filed by several enslaved families including the Queen Family, who claimed freedom by way of descent from a free woman.

Darnall Family Network

The Darnall family intermarried with a number of other influential families in western Maryland, including the Carrolls. Enslaved members of the Joice Family were held by many generations of this family.

Greenfield Family Network

Several enslaved people held in bondage by members of the Greenfield family filed petitions in the Circuit Court, using various arguments to try and obtain their freedom.

Key Family Network

Francis Scott Key, his uncle, Philip Barton Key, and his son, Philip Barton Key II, represented both enslaved persons and their owners in freedom petitions before courts in Maryland and D.C.

Wharton-Pile Family Network

The Wharton and Pile families enslaved numerous members of the Thomas Family and also traded and exchanged them with their neighbors and acquaintances. Many of the Thomases petitioned for their freedom in D.C. and Maryland.

Downloadable Family Guides

These guides document each family's freedom suits in multiple jurisdictions, including every case we could find to date, and the family networks described within these court records.